Edukos, a Venezuelan-American gastropub, opens its doors today at 1701 W. Flagler St. in Little Havana at 5 p.m. for dinner, about a quarter of a mile from Marlins Park.
Described as "an exuberant tavern for the adventurous," the restaurant encourages diners to try new foods and build unique experiences. Playing off of its name, "educo" — Latin for “to lead and to draw out" — founder/owner John Guilarte brings much more than an average eatery to Miami's Cuban neighborhood.
"When you're introduced to our belief system, we want you to change and grow together with us," Guilarte says. "We are a new American contemporary tavern with glimpses of Venezuelan flavors fused with American pub favorites."
Edukos was slated to open in downtown Miami, but the location fell through in December 2016. "A few weeks later, I was really lucky and came across the space in Little Havana," he says. "When I walked in, I knew this was where I was meant to be."
Since acquiring the space in mid-January, Guilarte completely redesigned it, adding new fixtures and refurbishing aged bricks to create a more modern and industrial atmosphere. In the beginning of May, he hosted small-scale soft opening meals, hoping to address all kinks before the restaurant's official opening.
"I've never run a restaurant before," he says. "I learned a lot about managing the kitchen and its pace. Even with a few challenges, like staff quitting or people not showing up to interviews, we've had a tremendous turnaround with making the process really smooth."
On the menu, Guilarte maintains a balance of American and Venezuelan flavors, like an arepa topped with chicken salad. He plans to rotate food and drink offerings eight to ten times a year, giving people a reason to come back for an opportunity to forge new culinary experiences.
Food and drink highlights include a rosemary-and-thyme-infused guava sparkling cocktail served alongside a portion of poutine — French fries topped with cheese curd and asado negro gravy — or a cold beer with alligator sliders drizzled with blueberry chutney, sriracha mayonnaise, and salsa criolla. Other plates include the smoked greens, where zucchini is stuffed with smoked vegetables, herbs, and cheese, and placed atop a crispy potato cake; biscuit bites filled with chicha; and tequeños, Venezuelan-style cheese sticks served with cilantro aioli.
"I believe that in a comfortable environment, you're more likely to try something different," he says. "It's all about intimacy here. Come on a date or bring a small group of friends."
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But if you're looking for a place to watch a sports game, Guilarte suggests finding another restaurant. "We don't have TVs here anyways," he laughs. "This isn't that kind of place. Ideally, we'd like to keep tables under four or five people each."
After five years as a brand manager for an international rum company, Guilarte, a Venezuelan who grew up in Orlando, wanted to blend his love for drinks with homestyle food. He began in 2014, spending more than a year just on Edukos' branding. Afterward, he concentrated on small-scale, food-and-drink popups. Nearly three years later, he looks forward to sharing Edukos with the public.
"It's been a grind," he says. "But so worth it. Our goal is to get some momentum and let Little Havana tell us what else it wants."
1701 W. Flagler St., Miami; 786-452-0488; edukosmiami.com. Dinner service Tuesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight. Extended hours and brunch service are expected in the future.