Hipster Haven Beaker & Gray Tries to Fit Into Wynwood

A description of Wynwood's 2-month-old Beaker & Gray reads like a hipster checklist. There's pork belly, sous vide cooking, and exposed brick walls. The soundtrack bounces from '80s hits to the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Gimme the Loot."

When the 120-seater's owners, Brian Nasajon and Ben Potts, who respectively oversee the kitchen and bar, were growing up together in Miami, it seemed unlikely they would open such a place. But after studying philosophy at New York University, Nasajon pivoted and took an unpaid job at Josh Capon's Lure Fishbar. Potts, a onetime investment banker, traded Zegna suits and Ferragamo loafers for a bar-back gig at Miami Beach's Purdy Lounge.

Nasajon went on to run Sushi­Samba's two Miami outposts, while Potts moved from Purdy to the Broken Shaker and later to Brickell's Blackbird Ordinary.

Then, in 2014, the ambitious 30-somethings persuaded Nasajon's parents to help turn a defunct North Miami Avenue ice factory into a hip hangout. They branded it an "eatery, barroom, and purlieu." It was to be just the kind of nonchalant sophistication the yuppie and tourist crowds flooding Wynwood demand.

They tapped local design outfit Saladino Design Studios to give it the same gritty yet urbane stamp the company has applied to Myron Mixon's Pride & Joy, Funky Buddha Brewery's recently opened taproom, and Calle Ocho watering hole Ball & Chain.

At Beaker & Gray, the ceiling is crosshatched by the original structure's heavy wood beams and hulking steel girders. Chocolate-brown and red leather banquettes and chairs ring walnut tables to reinforce the speakeasy theme.

Despite the casual environs, the kitchen and bar burst with ambition. Nasajon makes use of modernist cooking techniques at almost every opportunity. Potts has organ­ized an impressive bar program filled with one-off spirits and house-made accoutrements that signify great possibilities.

Yet it seems Beaker & Gray is trying so hard to meet the expectations of the now globally recognized neighborhood that it sometimes overextends itself.

There are a few simple bright spots tucked into the mostly small-plates menu. One unassumingly called "grains" is a nutty, toothsome heap of bulgur, red quinoa, and black barley. It's simmered in a concentrated tomato water that captures the fruit's delicate sweetness and fluttering acidity. This is tomato flavor in its purest form. Tender chilled Key West pink shrimp are folded in, and the whole thing is dressed with grated egg whites and a hefty vinaigrette that trills beautiful harmonies of salt, sugar, spice, and fat. This is one of Nasajon's simplest dishes. It's on trend but also his most thoughtful and successful plate.

A steaming bowl of creamy Prince Edward Island mussels and meaty littleneck clams takes a heavy hit of coconut milk. It turns what would have been an otherwise thin, forgettable gruel into an addictive witch's brew worthy of guzzling straight from the bowl.

Potts' bar menu is an even match for Nasajon's best plates and often overshadows the food's shortcomings. It's split into sections — "Shaken" for fruitier, brighter options and "Stirred" for those orbiting darker spirits. They're costly concoctions, on par with South Beach prices. But remember there's much more than Red Bull and rail vodka. A Sazerac using High West Double Rye and Rémy Martin 1738 could hold its own in New Orleans, even during the bacchanal of Tales of the Cocktail. The Greenhouse, made with gin, green Chartreuse, basil, and celery soda, is so refreshing, you could sneak one in during a juice cleanse or any day of the summer.

Then there's a small dish of pumpkin gnocchi offering the squash's flesh parlayed into tender dumplings plated with fish sauce-braised pork ribs, lemon, and shiso. It seems good in theory, but it's inedible and tastes of little more than salt. Cauliflower falls victim to the same crime, probably due to its salty huancaína sauce, made with Parmigiano-Reggiano. The sprinkles of queso fresco and bacon don't help.

The restaurant has been open only a few months, but the basics still need work. Chicken nuggets are generally a drunk delight that need no improvement. But in Nasajon's version, the birds undergo a time-consuming process that doesn't do much. The result doesn't even improve upon the local convenience store's Krispy Krunchy Chicken. Skin-on breasts are ground, combined with honey mustard and unfiltered apple juice, then sealed and set for a two-hour bath before frying. All of that time and effort should've been spent ensuring a generous duck breast was properly seasoned, not overcooked, and perched atop a slick of romesco that tasted more complex than peanut butter.

This restaurant's ambition is admirable. After all, Wynwood's allure grew from the desire to be creative and different. But being creative also means knowing when to pull back. Artists and photographers call it negative space. Beaker & Gray may be great, but it needs to work on the details. Coolness is important, but so are great food, reasonable prices, and a pleasant ambiance. The cool factor is important, but not at the expense of the basics.

Beaker & Gray
2637 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-699-2637; beakerandgray.com. Sunday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.

  • Grains $11
  • Cauliflower $13
  • Pumpkin gnocchi $14
  • Chicken nuggets $12
  • Duck $15
  • Mussels and clams $23

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