The notion that the three biggest determinants of restaurant success are location, location, location is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Take the intersection of Bay Road and 20th Street in Miami Beach. Sea Rock, a music-themed seafood restaurant, crashed there in no time at all.
Sea Rock's problem was doubtless that there were diners like me who entered intending to eat, only to bolt after being audibly assaulted by arena-decibel music (early in the evening!). That was just dumb. The new tenant, Picnic, also has serious shortcomings that have nothing to do with the space and everything to do with the thinking.
"Brunch... it's what's for dinner!" is Picnic's conceit. That seems like a tough sell right off the bat, but let's roll with it. About a dozen breakfast items, from French toast to French baked eggs, are served through lunch- and dinnertime. On the flip side of the single-page laminated menu are a limited number of coffee shop comfort foods perhaps more apropos for later eating — mostly salads, sandwiches, and burgers.
Picnic Miami: 1400 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-673-4755; picnicmiami.com. Brunch, lunch, and dinner Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to sunset.
The layout hasn't been radically altered. The former bar is now a counter, with numerous uncomfortable-looking stools lined up in front; we never saw anybody seated there. Booths that line one side of the sparsely decorated L-shaped room face a giant projection TV screen surrounded by a wide frame of plastic green grass. That's not exactly my idea of a picnic in the park.
Nor was thumping club music (thankfully not played too loudly) the ideal soundtrack for an 11:15 Saturday-morning breakfast. That's when we arrived for our first visit — about 15 minutes after opening time. One employee was in charge of everything — hosting, waiting, and bussing for indoor and outdoor tables. There were maybe ten other patrons, yet it took 40 minutes for two relatively simple breakfasts to arrive: eggs Benedict and biscuits and gravy. The latter was to be accompanied by a grilled ham steak and "two large eggs." The biscuit was fresh and flaky, smothered in a creamy gravy dotted with bits of sausage (whose presence should be mentioned on the menu). Eggs Benedict arrived with undercooked eggs, cold tater tots, and no hollandaise sauce. After returning the plate to the kitchen (and after we finished the biscuits), the waiter delivered the griddled ham steak, moistly scrambled eggs, and white toast (poor guy was so busy he never asked how I wanted my eggs cooked or whether I'd prefer wheat or rye bread). By the time we polished off the eggs and ham, our Benedict bounced back — cooked through, tasting of vinegar, and sprinkled with quite a bit of spicy chili powder. The tots still weren't hot, the sauce still absent. As we took the last bites, a clownish mimicry of hollandaise finally arrived as a cold, broken emulsion — clarified butter with vague egg yolk flavor. On the plus side: The harried waiter was friendly, a deliciously robust Italian roast coffee costs only a buck (although inexplicably served with low-fat milk), and cold beverages include juices, milkshakes, and mix-and-match fresh fruit smoothies — or will include milkshakes and smoothies. After more than a month in operation, management has not yet been able to figure out how to produce these blended drinks.
Dinner was no less dysfunctional. The appetizers proffered include a hummus platter, guacamole and chips, and "mac & cheese spring rolls with smoked gouda dipping sauce." We ordered the last out of perverse curiosity: Could it be as bad as it sounds? We likewise asked for chicken wings with "Picnic hot sauce," which along with fries, onion rings, chicken tenders, and corn dogs are listed under "baskets." After a considerable wait, a small white oval plate containing a modest scattering of glazed wings arrived. The explanation was one of our plates was dropped, so we'd be getting more wings shortly. We didn't quite know what that meant, but the chicken was meaty, moist, and coated with a mildly piquant sweet/sour sauce. Another plate of wings followed, but there was no sign of the spring rolls. Turns out that's what had been dropped, so they brought more wings instead. Because it was their mistake, we weren't charged for two orders of wings; we were, however, billed for an order of wings ($6) and an order of mac and cheese rolls ($7).
An eight-ounce "smokehouse" hamburger came topped with melted cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion rings, and smoky sauce. It was missing the pickle, and the accompanying fries were crinkle-cut, pale, and of the frozen sort, not "hand-cut" as the description suggested. But it was a solid burger. The same fries are served as half of fish and chips, the only nonsandwich entrée; two soggy and oily fillets of fried tilapia composed the rest. Coleslaw was likewise promised, but you probably won't be surprised to learn that we never received it.
Sandwiches are mostly kids' stuff: grilled cheese, PB & J, sloppy joe, BLT, and fried bologna, which I last had as a lad growing up in Brooklyn and no longer eat. So I went with crab-in-the-grass, described as "seafood salad in a toasty mini bun." The filling was surimi, that fake crab stuff, tossed with mayonnaise and a few chives. Now, for $8, I was not expecting lump crab meat mingled with langoustines, but a bit of chopped celery in the salad would have been appreciated — or maybe a leaf of lettuce slipped into the bread. A cup of split pea soup, ordered separately, came thick, coarse, and lukewarm, with bits of ham within and crumbles of bacon on top.
Deep-fried Oreos, one of just two designated desserts, comprises three of the iconic cookies coated in fluffily fried pancake batter and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Not bad if you like fried cookies. The other dessert, "jumbo cupcakes," never seemed to be available, but I suspect the most distinctive thing about them is that they go for "market price." So, evidently, does the coffee, which at dinner was $2 — still worth it, but double what the menu lists.
Prices are generally pretty low here: most brunch items $6 to $10, sandwiches $6 to $9, burgers $8 to $10. Guess that's a saving grace of sorts. And the path to this erratic eatery was probably paved with good intentions too. Still, restaurants as clueless as Picnic are tough to find. And we're not talking about location.
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