Let's just start by stating the obvious: It's hot and steamy in Miami this time of year. Too hot for tucking into a steakhouse meal of beefy pleasures with buttery sides. This is the time for dining on something lighter. The conundrum is, of course, to find something that's still big on flavor. Even though the temperature and humidity is raging, the last thing I want is some nondescript salad.
On a recent visit to Lincoln Road to pick up a backordered bookshelf, I saw a blackboard sign outside Oolite Restaurant & Bar, which invited passersby to enjoy "In Rightful Hands Wessel's BBQ Shrimp." Between the great suggestion and the fact that the restaurant offered shelter from the blistering sun, I stepped in.
That BBQ shrimp ($14) had traveled with Kris Wessel like a well-loved companion, accompanying the chef on his journeys, starting at Red Light Little River and winding up here. The shrimp are cooked perfectly, with a satisfying snap to the bite and the sauce has a tingle that tickles the lips, rather than numbs them.
Here's the secret, however. Wessel, a native Floridian who also spent some formative years in New Orleans, cooks for this latitude. His dishes, created with local ingredients like mango, lime, coconut, and local seafood, are handled with a light touch. Even fried items like tostones ($8) and fried green tomato arepas ($9) are made deftly.
Summer doesn't stop at the dinner plate. Oolite's cocktail menu (specialty cocktails are $11) is filled with Floridian influences. A Negroni is brightened up with grapefruit bitters and a take on a classic Ramos gin fizz is lightened by substituting coconut milk for cream.
Especially delicious is the Backyard Mangrove. Made with fresh mangoes taken from writer Jen Karetnick's backyard and a touch of honey, then garnished with a slice of dehydrated mango, it's the perfect use for all those slightly bruised mangoes you might find on the ground. Wessel modernized his Uncle Bob Wessel's recipe for a mango cocktail, proving once again that fresh mango juice (with a touch of rum) is a classic.
Escape the blaring summer sun for a Backyard Mangrove cocktail and some BBQ shrimp, or make chef Wessel's cocktail at home using this recipe. Either way, it's a sure way to beat that Miami heat.
Uncle Bob Wessel's Backyard Mango Cocktail
With an update on ingredients circa Miami 1953
3 oz. Santa Teresa Claro rum
1 oz Mango pulp
4 drops mango honey
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
3 drops blossom bitters
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1 piece dehydrated mango
Hand stir pulp, honey, lime juice, bitters and Rum. Rim glass with fresh lime. Garnish with dehydrated mango.