One year ago New Times was lamenting the news that David Bracha's River Oyster Bar, one of the few remaining non-chain restaurants in Brickell, would be leaving the neighbourhood in 2015. But fans of the local favorite need not be sad any longer; the restaurant has recently signed a lease allowing it to keep its long-time address for a minimum of three more years.
Chef and owner Bracha is happy, to say the least. "I'm glad, this February will be our 13th year, I think that's pretty amazing for Miami!" The eatery had already secured a new location along the Miami River, when in late May of this year its landlord offered Bracha an extension on his lease. "I decided to stay," says Bracha. "I think we've gone through the worst of the construction, and the current River location is an iconic one." According to the restaurant, the hope is to stay in the same spot long after three years.
To mark this exciting new chapter, River will undergo a facelift that will see the addition of communal high-top tables and an expansion of the bar area. What's more, the seafood joint will be updating its menu. These updates will include serving many favorites from Bracha's sister restaurant, Oak Tavern, which bid adieu to its Design District digs earlier this year after the building was sold for a hefty sum.
Oak's chef de cuisine, Curtis Rhodes, will be a full-time fixture in the River's kitchen, so get ready to see the return of tuna poke with with avocado and sweet soy, scallop tostadas, crispy suckling pig, and mushroom-crusted rib-eye. Even beloved Oak cocktails such as the Green Mile and the Mai Tai will be offered.
Tonight, however, River will play host to Pop-Oak, a one-day-only Oak Tavern pop-up. For $10, you can choose among five appetizers ranging from crab toast to baked lamb meatballs. The limited-edition menu will also feature duck pizza, sea scallops a la plancha, and lager-braised Wagyu short ribs. And don't worry, for $5 you can get dessert too.
When asked about whether we can expect to see a new stand-alone Oak Tavern one of these days, Brancha says it's definitely a possibility. "I'm very interested in reopening Oak, it just has to be the right situation. With the boom in Miami it's becoming more difficult to score a good location and lease, I'm open for suggestions," he says.
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These last few haven't been easy on River. The local favorite has endured nearly three years of intense construction, street closures, and landscape altering conditions. It watched the demolition of its neighbor, Tobacco Road, and the closing of numerous other restaurants and area businesses. In 2012, the property got sold to a Colombian business man, and Bracha and his team found a new location. It was also during this time that Bracha's business partner of 16 years, Kieran Fallon, passed away. Bracha says the death led to delays for the planned new site and escalating costs. But then River's landlord came through, and right now the restaurant's future looks bright as ever.
“We made it this far!” says Bracha. “With the first phase of Brickell City Center set to open by the end of the year, we’re excited to be a part of the changing neighborhood and that the River will remain a true neighborhood restaurant amidst the hundreds of national brands opening in the adjacent center.”
River opened shop back when Brickell wasn't on anyone's radar, and has since continued to attract patrons for daily lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The restaurant's $1 oyster happy hour is also a major destination for the after-work crowd. Stop by 650 Miami Ave. this evening to experience Pop-Oak, and then plan on returning, because River isn't going to float away any time soon.