Food News

John Kunkel on Opening of Patpong Road and Fate of Khong Fuzi

Patpong Road, 50 Eggs' newest concept, opens this Friday, August 23, above Khong River House.

The intimate lounge, which is open only Friday and Saturday evenings from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., is designed to invoke Bankok's infamous Patpong Road. In addition to food stalls, another form of flesh is also freely available at the bar's namesake, which is notorious for being a red-light district.

See also: Jeff McInnis Departs Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

In keeping with the sinfully chic night-market theme, the SoBe lounge will feature a cocktail program, curated by 50 Eggs beverage director Allegra Angelo, in which cocktails ($10 to $25) such as the "Laid-ee" drink, made with rum and fresh juice, are served in plastic "sippi" bags. If you're hungry, Khong's main chef, Sudarat Loasupho (also known as Mama Pai), offers re-creations of night-market street food such as pad thai, drunken rice noodles, house-made Chiang Rai sausage, Thai summer rolls, Thai doughnuts, and anything you can possibly skewer on a stick.

Because a lot has happened at 50 Eggs this summer, including chef changes and the imminent opening of Patpong Road, we spoke with John Kunkel to catch up on the developments.

New Times: When you opened Khong River House, the former Buck 15 space was going to be a place for private dinners; then it was an absinthe lounge. Now it's Patpong Road.

John Kunkel: This is something we've wanted to do since we opened Khong. We first had to open and get through the permitting process; now we're actually going farther than we originally thought. [Patpong Road is] going to be this cool little red-light district hangout space with its own bar and menu.

The space always seemed like a bar, so it should be a bar. We did some chef dinners, and we finally went all in and did what we should have done. The sound system went in last week. There's a private entrance in the back, and the whole staff is superexcited about it. We're just running it Friday and Saturday nights for now, and we want to have some fun with it.

What is the décor and the feel of the space?

We just really got inspired from the signage and the imagery of Patpong Road in Bangkok. We still have a lot of the tables and chairs that we put in storage, so if we have corporate functions we can do them, but we're really looking to have the place really be Patpong on Friday and Saturdays and then do some other creative things during the week.

We're channeling Buck 15 again. With its own entrance in the alleyway, it really does feel like the entrance to some red-light district bar in Bangkok.

You're really doing cocktails in plastic bags?

We really are. We had so much fun with that. Allegra Angelo is our beverage director, and Robert downstairs is amazing, so the two of them really crafted the menu with drinks in plastic bags and cool cocktails. We hired a bunch of new bartenders, and we're almost treating this as a separate entity. It's a teeny, tiny place, but it has its own look. There are cool places that have popped up like the Rec Room and the Broken Shaker, but this has its own feel, and I think everyone will respond to it.

Downstairs at Khong, there's a very distinct music soundtrack. It's basically Top 40 from about 20 years ago -- what I can imagine to be played in Bangkok restaurants. What are you playing at Patpong Road?

That is exactly the inspiration we're going for. We actually met DJ Jessica Who on a plane. She was the DJ at Tao in Las Vegas, and she lives across the street from Yardbird. We started talking to her about this idea we had for the upstairs and that we wanted cool music -- '80s and '90s rock and hip-hop, not anything you would hear in a club in Miami. She spent a lot of time with the music. Every time I start a project, I kind of start with some playlist in my head, and this is kind of an extension of downstairs. When you listen, you're really in Bangkok and you're really on Patpong Road, and it's a place trapped in time and the music you're listening to is Prince and Depeche Mode. That's exactly the music we want there.

You're serving street-market food at Patpong Road. Are you still opening Khong Fuzi on Alton Road, your street-market/noodle bar?

No, we're not. We're still building up lunch at Khong, and as many times as I tried, I couldn't get kitchen equipment in that space adjacent to Lime. It was only 600 square feet. We're still looking for a space for Khong Fuzi, but it won't be on the Beach. We're looking at a cool bar that's associated with Lime. It's been ten years that that little store has been there, so giving it a new look and face-lift is something we're excited about.

Patpong Road is not a fast-casual concept. Khong Fuzi is like a noodle stand. As we went to the Gables and had so much fun with Robert Ferrara at Swine, we kind of got the "bar bug" for a while, and [Patpong Road] was an easy fix for us.

There have been changes at Khong River House.

As much as I'm a businessman, I'm a very loyal person, and even as we hit stumbling blocks with Bee [former Khong chef Piyarat Potha Arreeratn], I did not back away from the loyalty piece. The same people who developed the original menu are still cooking to this day. The people who are responsible for cooking the boat noodles and Thai beef jerky and all those wonderful dishes are still here. We went out of our way trying to make this work. We have a group of five Thai chefs. These are the folks who have been here from the beginning, and they are here now and that has not changed. Mama Pai I've known for about 13 years. Her husband was a coach in Thai boxing and was one of the first people I trained with when I came back from overseas. She is as good a person as you'll ever find.

See also: Khong's Chef Bee Headed to Oishi Thai

What's the status of Yardbird?

There's really no drama. We're proud of the fact that Jeff [McInnis] can now do anything he chooses to do. We want him to be successful. Yardbird is a massive operation, and Clay Miller is coming in from Michael Mina's group, one of the most organized restaurant groups out there.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss