That's what happened with the Federal Food, Drink & Provisions. When it opened in January 2012 in a strip mall next to a Dunkin' Donuts, the Federal's neighborhood was still finding its identity and welcomed the eatery and its playful takes on American pub food. The concept worked, with New Times naming it Miami's Best Neighborhood Restaurant in 2012. The Federal was also prominently featured on the Bravo series Best New Restaurant last year.
Four years later, both the neighborhood and the Federal's owners have changed for the better. A quick look around shows a running store, a personal training gym, a health-food store, and a yoga studio as neighbors (the Dunkin' Donuts is still there too). Owners Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata have also turned to a healthier lifestyle, with the couple training at the gym next door and eating better. "We have grown alongside our guests and our peers," Zapata says. "Our lifestyles are different now. It's healthier and cleaner; our new menu will reflect this."
In early May, the couple closed the Federal for a few weeks. Last week, it reopened as the Fed. Gone is the Federal's Americana kitsch. The tchotchkes and (gasp) signature jackalope that graced the walls and shelves have been replaced with citrus-colored walls adorned with paintings of luchadores by Miami artist Miguel Paredes. The result is a cleaner space that gives the illusion that the small restaurant has grown in square footage.
The menu has also changed, although fans of the original concept will notice similarities. Chef Zapata has, however, traded in most of his heartier fare — including the restaurant's beloved pig wings — for a lighter menu filled with fresh seafood, vegetables, and proteins with a Southwestern slant (although Zapata is also influenced by Caribbean and Indian flavors).
The menu is divided into five categories: "For the Homies" (small, shareable plates), tostadas, bowls, skillets, and tortas. The best news: No dish costs more than $20, and portions are generous. New Times was invited to try some items and found the dishes flavorful, as well as easy on the eyes and the wallet.
Beer-battered avocado ($10) is served with a tangy truffled yogurt sauce. The avocado inside is creamy and perfectly ripe. One diner at the table was put off by the warm avocado. Get past it to find a creamy alternative to a cheesy fried appetizer.
An heirloom tomato bowl ($10) incorporates the same lush avocados along with crisp quinoa, garden herbs, and a chipotle vinaigrette.
A tostada is topped with a selection of Gulf seafood tossed in smoky Valentina sauce for this Mexican ceviche dish ($12).
The skillets are, by far, the best value on the menu. A play on that staple of Mexican restaurants, the sizzling fajita, each skillet is generously filled with your choice of protein, peppers, onions, roasted jalapeños, pickled vegetables, and a choice of tortillas or napa cabbage to "roll your own." Choices include smoked, organic free-range Florida chicken ($14), braised organic chicken tinga ($12), 100 percent grass-fed Angus
Leave room for dessert. Sopapilla, topped with whipped cream and cinnamon apples ($8), has the intoxicating scent of carnival funnel cake. One order for the table ensures everyone has a sweet ending to a satisfying meal that won't leave you feeling guilty or your wallet empty.