The first gastropub is generally considered to have been The Eagle, in London. Michael Belben and David Eyre launched it in 1991, and it was simply a pub with unexpectedly good food and a catchy label. The label, of course, went on...and on and on. April Bloomfield is credited for opening America's first gastropub, New York City's Spotted Pig. This, too, served pub fare, but like at The Eagle it was ambitious pub fare. And that's sort of what a gastropub is: A place with quality informal foods -- dare we say "chef-driven"? --and distinctive and varied beers and wines. And it is usually, but not always, situated in a comfy neighborhood space that attempts to capture the spirit of a traditional pub.
Except sometimes the line between a gastropub and not-a-gastropub can be thin and near invisible.
A place like Clarke's, for example, serves good fare with viable beverages, but it's really just a pub with good food. Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant serves decent fare and distinctive beer, but it's a brewery & restaurant. Elwood's Gastro Pub has the name pat, but the menu is not much different than at T.G.I.F. Sra. Martinez proffers small plates of chef-driven fare with select beers and wines, but it's a tapas joint -- which is sort of like a Spanish-style gastropub but it still doesn't count. Primo Pizza makes pizza, which has nothing at all to do with this except I'm feeling hungry and gastropubs, it might be noted, do not as a rule deliver.
So now that I've cleared things up, let's take a gander at Miami's five finest gastropubs:
5. Pubbelly Sushi
We'll be honest: Our inclination was to leave this number five slot blank, because while Pubbelly Sushi, as well as the same team's Barceloneta, satisfy gastropub requirements, the latter's Spanish roots steer it towards the tapas category and the former serves sushi and is too similar to Pubbelly -- which is already on this list. So let's just say Pubbelly Sushi carries 14 brews, half of which are Asian imports, has a quirky wine list with about a dozen choices for $40 or less, proffers twelve select sakes, and serves cool food in a casual environment. And we'll add that we like it a lot and that this town that evidently doesn't have nearly enough gastropubs.
4. The Local Craft Food & Drink
The chef/partner at this chef-driven cafe, Alberto Cabrera, left at the end of January in order to pursue his own frita shop. Luckily he left the beer list behind, which was recently named one of the 10 Best Beer Menus In America by Esquire magazine. The twenty or so draft pours include Brooklyn Brown Ale, Cigar City Maduro (from Tampa), and Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale, which is extremely challenging to pronounce after you've had a few. Great bottles on hand as well, and food at this 50-seater is ambitious for sure. Diners can start with artisanal American cheeses before moving on to items such as duck rillette with red wine jam, and dark wedges of grass-fed flank steak jerky.
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3. The Federal Food Drink and Provisions
This is the latest in a welcome rash of hip, casual neighborhood restaurants to open over the past year. The Federal's food is as distinctive as can be, from jar-o-duck with sweet potato and marshmallow fluff to Buffalo-style pig wings to sweetbread with biscuits & gravy. Some half-dozen pints of draft beer include Avery Brewing Company's IPA and Summit Red Ale. A similar number of bottled brews include the Golden Monkey Tripel from Colorado. Over 100 wine selections are culled exclusively from family estate producers.
It was our pick for Best Restaurant in South Beach last year, and chef/partner Sergio Navarro was recently nominated for Best Chef South by the James Beard Foundation. Yes, the small-plates menu of 30-plus Asian-accented items are fresh, creative, and flavor-packed. The $6 McBelly, for instance, packs the fatty pork into a bun with pickles, shaved onions, and kim chee barbecue sauce. Bowls of ramen, plates of imported Spanish hams, raw bar items, duck-and-pumpkin dumplings. Yum. On the pub side: more than a dozen bottled beers, 14-ounce draughts, a couple of dozen boutique red and white wines.
This is not your daddy's gastropub. For one thing, your daddy never had a gastropub as they weren't invented yet. But Haven is unlike anybody's gastropub, mostly because of the ambiance: wraparound LCD screens immerse diners in scenes of snow-capped mountains and other visual wonders, a thousand or so ice-cube lights line the ceiling, the Siberian white-onyx bar changes colors, and, if you stay long enough, an electric late night crowd ambles in and turns the wattage up even more. Granted, this is not the typical environment we think of in terms of gastropubs, but it's local, has fantastic and creative and uber-ambitious food by chef Todd Erickson, and beers, wines, and cocktails match the quality of all else -- the last come smoking from liquid nitrogen. This is a gastropub for sure -- only it's the next generation gastropub.