Inside a graffiti-splashed building on NE Second Avenue in the heart of Little Haiti, Romain Breton peeks into a small rotisserie oven. Five chickens rubbed with a secret Portuguese spice recipe rotate on the bottom rack.
Sporting a trimmed beard and black-striped apron, the 42-year-old takes a few steps to the left and peers through a window into a massive, 18,000-square-foot courtyard. A dozen or so picnic tables are scattered around the periphery, and at the far end stands a performance stage. The concrete-block and bamboo-covered walls are filled with ultra-colorful street art that shows an animated chicken with its thumbs up, Homer Simpson gripping a spray-paint can, and a goofy-looking dog holding a beer glass.
"We want to become the Little Haiti Walls," Breton says with a rapscallion smile. "This property belongs to us. There's no going anywhere. So now we wait."
Breton and his partners, 60-year-old Claude Postel and 41-year-old Corentin Finot, believe their month-old restaurant, Sixty10 Miami (6010 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-502-8006), can be the heart of the next Wynwood. Located on the site of a former car wash, it offers a modest menu of chicken with sides such as caramelized-onion potatoes, curry salad, soup, and French fries. The place doesn't have a liquor license yet, but on a recent evening, Breton poured a nice Pays d'Oc red for free, and some guests brought their own beer. The service, food, and vibe are a mix of Paris and Port-au-Prince.
In the next year, Breton and his partners plan to renovate the stage and build a large outdoor bar, a wine store, and a members-only drinking area, all covered by a towering chickee hut. Though now they attract only a few dozen customers a day, mostly from the neighborhood, they hope to become a hub for food, drinks, art, and music.
That plan might sound typically overambitious in Miami, a place where so many great ideas have gone up in flames. But these are the guys who pretty much invented the Buena Vista restaurant scene with the opening of Buena Vista Deli, just about a mile away. "We took a big risk years ago," Finot says. "We built up a successful business and helped the neighborhood grow. Now we're trying to do the same thing here."
Finot grew up outside Paris. His great-grandfather was the president of the champagne house Veuve Clicquot in the '30s. In 1999, at the age of 22, Finot moved to South Florida and, by 2004, had landed a job as general manager at Miami Beach's Wish, a swanky restaurant owned by Wynwood mastermind Tony Goldman. "One day he came to me with the idea about the Wynwood Walls," Finot recalls. "I asked him how it came to him, and he said, 'When I was driving by the warehouses, it looked like canvases waiting to be painted.' Now look what Wynwood has turned into."
Around that time, Finot met fellow Frenchman Claude Postel, whose great-great-uncle made chocolates for the French royal family and had worked as executive chef at La Barrière Poquelin in Paris, which earned two Michelin stars. Postel then moved to Montreal and, in 2001, arrived in Miami, where he bought a house with a backyard in Buena Vista.
After some involvement with an Ocean Drive restaurant, Postel opened Buena Vista Bistro in 2008. The neighborhood had taken off with urban pioneers by then, but there weren't many places to eat. Customers often lined up around the block in the evenings for Provençal-style escargots, lamb chops, and apple pie à la mode from Buena Vista Bistro. It was an instant success.
Two years later, Postel and Finot partnered to open Buena Vista Deli two doors down from the bistro. It served lighter fare such as pastries, salads, and sandwiches. Then came their wine and chocolate shop on the same block. But two years ago, the landlord nearly tripled the rent at Buena Vista Deli, so the two sold the concept and then shuttered the bistro and the chocolate shop.
"You make something great and then you get priced out," Finot says. "There's no security."
Then, in 2016, Postel and Finot opened Café Crème, a casual French place on NE 125th Street, but they dreamed of returning to Buena Vista. So earlier this month, they opened a 500-square-foot grab-and-go outpost of Café Crème (5010 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-452-7433) inside a complex that's being called Upper Buena Vista. The café is stocked with Nutella beignets, chocolate croissants, small cakes, and sandwiches, all prepared at the flagship in North Miami.
Ten blocks north, Sixty10 is a far bolder experiment. It's situated on a plot of land at NE 60th Street and NE Second Avenue, which Postel bought in 2013 for $357,000. "Claude owns the land, so all we have to do is create something," Finot says. "It won't affect us if the rents go up. We're here to stay and help the neighborhood grow."
They built a kitchen, outdoor seating, and a rudimentary stage and then turned to Romain Breton, a French native and former Buena Vista Deli customer-turned-friend, to help run the place. Breton, who moved to the United States more than 20 years ago to learn English, had forged a career in Miami's restaurant industry, where he worked for more than a decade as general manager at the Biltmore's Palme d'Or.
Now the three men take turns running Sixty10 with the help of a few employees who live nearby. They also invited Haitian graffiti artists Serge Toussaint and Astre74 to paint murals on the restaurant and its border walls.
On a recent night, Breton took orders from a small window on the building's right side. Diners were encouraged to take a seat at communal tables under a roof outside.
The menu is small and limited mostly to chicken, but prices are reasonable. There are quarter, half, and whole birds served with roasted potatoes in chicken jus or French fries ($8.95 to $33.95). Or try chicken sandwiches stuffed with smashed potatoes and caramelized onions; chicken wings with jalapeño jam; or chicken noodle soup. The menu also includes salads ($5.95 to $8.95), from coleslaw to house-made tabbouleh to a highly recommended curry salad. There are also sandwiches such as the "Spicy Cock," a mix of jalapeño jam, chicken, tomato, and lettuce on a kaiser roll ($8.95).
"On the weekends in France, you can get this kind of chicken anywhere on the street," Postel says.
Sixty10's organic chicken is rubbed with a secret Portuguese spice mix, brined overnight, and then cooked for about two hours on a rotisserie. The rub is subtle enough not to overpower the chicken but adds a fine flavor with each bite. "[Postel] makes it every few months," Breton says as he plunges his hands into a quarter-full clear bucket of the remaining mix. "None of us know exactly what goes in it."
In addition to all of the action planned under the chickee hut, there will also be a section called the "Red Light District," lit by cherry-colored bulbs and lined with lockers where regulars can store wine and spirits glasses along with unfinished bottles, Breton says. Members, assuming people want to join, will pay a fee. There are also plans to expand the kitchen, but service will remain through the window without waitstaff.
Time will tell if their ideas will come to fruition. The restaurant is across the street from the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in an area that has a far more Haitian feel than the quickly developing Upper Buena Vista complex or the fine Argentine restaurant Fiorito, which is located to the south.
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Last Friday night, while Sweet Micky Martelli, the former Haitian leader and musician, performed across the street, the neighborhood and Sixty10 were brimming with life, fun, and music. It was a taste of what Little Haiti, which many observers have already crowned the heir to Wynwood's galleries and edgy restaurants, could become.
One would hope diners and fun-seekers will flock to Sixty10, if not just for the art (which is more kitschy than Warhol) or the food (which is a bit monochromatic) but for the lively bar scene.
When the stage renovations are completed within the next few months, guests will be guaranteed a fine, cheap night out. About $40 will snag a half chicken, fries, booze, and free live music.
"We're not trying to change Little Haiti," Finot says. "That's why we've deliberately kept the name and not used 'Little River' or 'Lemon City.' Culture-wise, we have a lot in common. I don't think it's that out-of-the-ordinary to have a French-run restaurant here."