How Chug's Diner Got Its Name

Chug's plantain chip-topped Cuban sandwich.
Chug's plantain chip-topped Cuban sandwich. Photo by Blue Shell Media
Restaurateur Michael Beltran distinctly remembers the day he got his childhood nickname, Chug. The first day of his freshman year at Miami's Christopher Columbus High School, Beltran, then 13 years old, walked into history class late, a chocolate milk chug in hand.

Beltran recalls his teacher saying, "Hey chug-a-lug, come tell everyone why you're late."

The moniker stuck. Today, it's also the name for Beltran's Cuban-American-themed diner, Chug's.

In the spring of 2019, Beltran launched Chug's as a temporary pop-up in a small, unassuming space just blocks from his Coconut Grove restaurants Ariete, Navé, and the Taurus.

Beltran tells New Times the scrappy little spot located at 3444 Main Highway in Coconut Grove was originally meant as a way to market and sell Ariete executive chef Giovanni Fesser's handmade sweet and savory pastelitos. Prior to Chug’s original opening, those pastelito creations, known by Fesser's brand Pastelito Papi, could only be found full-time at Ariete.

"I initially wanted to give Gio's side hustle a full-time home, as well as a place that served good Cuban coffee," Beltran explains. "At the time, we certainly didn’t expect the response we got from the community."

But just one month into the pop-up Beltran knew he had a winner. He began making plans to expand the concept into a full-service restaurant. After closing for several months to undergo renovations, Chug's has expanded outward to offer more than 4,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor dining, bar, and café space.

In place of the once pocket-sized grab n’ go, Chug’s will officially relaunch this month as a permanent and expanded full-service diner complete with an airy, open design, walk-up ventanita, grab n’ go counter inside, and diner-style counter seating.

"It's an all-encompassing concept of what it was like to grow up in Miami through my eyes," Beltran says. "It's simple, approachable comfort food presented in an interesting way."

Expect plenty of American-Cuban riffs on everything from cocktails to croquetas to Cuban sandwiches, served until 1 a.m.

As a diner would, Chug’s will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, with an exclusive selection of breakfast items available until close.

However, unlike most diners, Chug’s will also feature a full bar with a curated cocktail list serving creative conoctions like the "Carajillo" (vodka, vanilla, coffee liqueur, Cuban coffee, and baking spices) and a "Dirty Coke Flip" (blackstrap rum, scotch, cola syrup, whipped egg, and nutmeg).
click to enlarge You can find Pastelito Papi's artisan pastelitos served until sold-out at Chug's Diner in Coconut Grove. - PHOTO BY BLUE SHELL MEDIA
You can find Pastelito Papi's artisan pastelitos served until sold-out at Chug's Diner in Coconut Grove.
Photo by Blue Shell Media
Beltran says he spent months collaborating with former Kyu chef Monika Dominguez to create a craveworthy menu of Cuban-American eats. Now heading the kitchen at Chug's, Dominguez lets her talent shine through dishes like a foie gras peanut butter and jelly buñuelo, medianoche pierogi, and masitas (a slow-cooked mojo pork belly served over fufu de platano).

Patrons can start their day with Chug's cast-iron pancakes, slow-cooked in clarified butter; biscuits and pickles served with country-fried chicken livers and red pepper jelly; and a breakfast sandwich made with Taylor ham, fried egg, American cheese, and Duke’s mayo on Cuban bread.

For lunch and dinner, the plethora of options ranges from soups, salads, and handhelds to entrée-style dishes. Standouts include meatloaf with tamarind ketchup, peas, and carrots served with whipped mashed potatoes; pan con minuta or pan con bistec; and pollo empanizado.

And, of course, there will be plenty of Pastelito Papi pastries. Fans of Fesser's pastelitos will be able to find the full range of Cuban pastries available for dine-in or to-go service (until sold-out) seven days a week. Special orders can also be made by contacting the chef directly via his Instagram page.

Last, the sweet side of Chug's comes courtesy of pastry chef Devin Braddock, who will be offering a special menu of meal-enders as well as an array of sweets, treats, cakes, and pies packaged to go. As a nod to Miami’s rich Cuban culture and love for pan Cubano, the pâtissière will be serving up freshly-baked Cuban bread made in-house alongside new signature desserts like her goat cheese flan and house-made arroz con leche.

Chug’s. 3444 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove; 786-353-2940; opening soon.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna