Coral Gables residents with chain restaurant fatigue will be heartened by a new establishment on the block (though off the Mile): Route 9
, set to open February 20. Located just down Ponce de Leon Boulevard, near Coral Gables Elementary, the 50ish-seat spot is a cozy labor of love (literally) that promises an infusion of young energy to the neighborhood.
Co-owners Jeremy and Paola Goldberg are just 28 years old, and yes, they're married -- in fact, the name of the restaurant is, in a way, a tribute to their meet-cute story. It's also a tribute, though, to their serious attitude about food: Route 9 is where you'll find the vaunted Culinary Institute of America, where the two first met.
Their local resumes also hold up: Paola worked for five years at Timo, and Jeremy put in time at Johnny V's Las Olas and then Escopazzo. Route 9 is their first restaurant, and one in which they've heavily invested their time, labor, and soul. "We put it together from the floor up," says Jeremy. "We're not trust fund kids, so it's not like if we don't make it here, we can go and open 10 other places and just keep trying. No, this was carefully very thought out."
The program, though, is ambitious from the start. With Paola running the kitchen and Jeremy at the front of the house, Route 9 will be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, lunch Tuesday through Friday, and brunch Saturday and Sunday.
Luckily, the menu is a concise one-page selection of charcuterie, soups and salads, small plates, and mains, priced competitively for the neighborhood at about $6 to $15 for small plates, and $16 to $25 or so for entrees.
"We want to do food that makes me feel comfortable, but we don't say 'comfort food,' because everybody has a different idea of comfort food," says Paola. "We want to keep it very simple; we don't want to be playing around with foie gras and marshmallows."
The full menu went online last week
, and the selections, so far, features creative twists on classics that should please picky eaters while still promising flavor. There is the requisite high-end cheeseburger (with balsamic marinated mushrooms, sharp provolone, and bacon), as well as a hanger steak with grilled hearts of romaine, roasted Florida grouper with key lime salsa, and even fish tacos. "But with the fish tacos, for instance, everything except from the tortillas -- which we'll buy locally -- will be made from scratch, the guacamole, everything will be done here," says Jeremy.
A craft beer and boutique wine selection, with most bottles ranging from $35 to $45, round out the offerings.
Short Order met with the Goldbergs recently as they worked to finish setting up the space, and picked their brains about their culinary history, and about the nuts and bolts of starting a restaurant from scratch in your twenties. Here's the first part of the Q&A, in which they discussed the influence of the alma mater that indirectly gave the restaurant its name.
Route 9 opens February 20 at 1915 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables. Visit route9miami.com or call 305-569-9009. You can also follow the restaurant on Twitter, at @Route9Miami, for the most up-to-date happenings.
Short Order: So your restaurant name is a reference to the school where you two met. What's the story there?
Paola: The story is actually pretty juicy if you must ask.
Jeremy: We started together, and it's a small school,and you start with 70 people at a time, a rotating program. Paola was the only person from another country in our group, which was a little different.... And she dated my roommate in college!
Then separately we both moved down to Miami. I came down right away after we graduated but Paola was the one person from our group who was asked to stay as a fellow, a teacher. So she stayed a year and then moved to Florida.
What brought you each down to Miami?
For me, it was the weather. I just couldn't shovel snow any more. And Jeremy has family down here seasonally; his grandparents from Montreal come down here every year.
Paola, did you grow up in the states? How did you wind up at the CIA?
Paola: No, I grew up in Mexico, and I wanted to leave Mexico for college. I originally wanted to go somewhere in Europe. When my Dad found out I wanted to be a chef, he said he heard there were great schools in the United States -- because he didn't want me to go so far away.
So he brought me to the CIA for one of the open houses, and you go to that place once, and you're like, "Oh my god, this is incredible!" I went there right after I finished high school; I graduated in May and I was at the CIA by September.
Jeremy: Our first day of school was September 11.
That's relatively young to start culinary school, because a lot of people seem to do other things for a few years before going. When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Paola: I grew up making stuff and selling it, anything from bracelets to cupcakes, since I was about five years old. I was two doors down from my grandma, who was always cooking. Every time I went to her house after school -- every day -- she would make me something, baked bread, or whatever else from scratch.
Growing up I loved baking and cooking, and my sister's boyfriend at the time opened a little restaurant. I was baking all his desserts, and I was like, "Wow, people are loving them!"
Then I started working at a kitchen because the CIA tells you that you have to have experience before you go to school. So I was peeling crabs and doing all this prep stuff, and I loved it; I truly, truly loved it.
Jeremy: I also started young, in high school, from about 15 or 16 as a dishwasher and prep cook. My whole family is doctors, and I had absolutely no desire to do anything along those lines. But my parents were great, they were real supportive. They watched this new thing, they had never seen somebody in a restaurant. It's very blue collar, and you work your way up, grinding through long hours, scrubbing, and doing everything.
Paola, was the CIA particularly challenging for you as a woman?
Paola: It was tough for many reasons. For me, I was terrified of speaking another language -- but I had no choice, because nobody else in our stream spoke Spanish. In the beginning, especially, it was very hard. We started in September, and our first break was Thanksgiving break, and I almost didn't come back. But it got easier, obviously, as time went by.
Where did you two do your externships?
Paola: I actually came down here, to the Loews on South Beach. That's when the Gaucho Room was there instead of Emeril's, which is there now. Very few people knew that place, but it was awesome. It was a small place, but we used to do about 400 covers on a tiny line, a four-man line, with a massive grill, so you'd be drenched by the end of the shift.
Jeremy: I was in Boston, at the Copley Marriott in Boston, which was the largest catering hall in New England. I was behind the grill, flipping 2000 filets, marking them, and then going to flip 2000 pieces of fish on a skillet with conveyor belts. It was pretty wild.
Did doing that kind of high volume help lessen the nervousness you might have about opening your own place?
Paola: I think that nervousness is only going to go away when we open. I think we're both very excited, but super nervous! We have been doing this for so long, but yet obviously we've never owned our own place, and we just want to make it as smooth as possible, and enjoy every moment.