Restaurateur John Kunkel's BTW Conjures Familiar Food and Feelings

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John Kunkel is going back to his roots. After opening hits like Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House, and Swine Southern Table & Bar, the 50 Eggs chief is again dabbling in fast-casual with Burger Taco Whiskey, BTW for short, and a pair of other concepts.

"John has done fast-casual, so it's a natural progression, especially when there's such a boom in that area of business," says Carrie Copeland, 50 Eggs' vice president of marketing.

BTW opened in February in the space once occupied by Kunkel's original fast-casual, Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. The open-air Alton Road spot was the spiritual home of Kunkel's Mexican empire, which Ruby Tuesday Inc. purchased for $24 million in 2012. Lime was a place to rub shoulders with nightclub promoters, Miami Beach cops, and cherry-red tourists. Now the brick-lined patio is shaded by auburn beams that let the sun flood in. A chunky wood bar bears dozens of whiskeys, and the familiar chalkboard menu proffers drink specials.

Ahead of BTW's opening, Kunkel brought in Michelin-starred chef Danny Grant, formerly of 1826 Restaurant & Lounge. But Grant left 50 Eggs under unclear circumstances about two weeks in and was followed by 33-year-old Cristian Cuevas, a Puerto Rican-born cook who has worked at three of Kunkel's restaurants.

Burger Taco Whiskey

1439 Alton Rd., Miami Beach; 305-532-5463; burgertacowhiskey.com. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 p.m. to midnight.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Pork belly taco $4
Mahi-mahi taco $3.50
Swine burger $14

With him came the Swine burger, made with two chuck/short-rib/brisket patties, Miami Smokers bacon, and American cheese squeezed between slices of a butter-grilled potato roll.

There are also influences from Cuevas' home island. The chef braises pork belly in its own fat, shreds it, fries it, and piles it onto a flour tortilla. It's topped with a tangy, spicy escabeche of red onion, coriander, vinegar, black pepper, and sherry vinegar. Über-crisp fish tacos start with mahi-mahi filets dredged and fried in the same flour Yardbird uses for its chicken. The juicy fish, which gloriously outsizes its tortilla, is crowned with crisp, cilantro-flecked cabbage. Cuevas says he hopes to begin pressing his own tortillas soon, as is the case with a new generation of Miami taquerias.

These kinds of comfort classics in easy-to-operate settings are right in Kunkel's wheelhouse. And soon he'll open a fast-casual Yardbird spinoff, Lewellyn's Chicken & Biscuits, near the University of Miami. What remains to be seen is whether BTW, the fried-chicken spot, or a still-in-development noodle concept will be the next to take off.

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