Restaurant Reviews

The Flavors of Freedom

"Give me liberty or give me Parrilla Liberty."

I think a famous freedom fighter said that.

If he didn't, he should have, because a meal at Parrilla Liberty -- an ink spot of an Argentine steak house just blocks from Lincoln Road -- will definitely set you free: free from outrageous South Beach prices, free from infamous South Beach attitude, free from annoyingly hip South Beach cuisine.

Actually it's pretty much free of South Beach everything. Although it's only a short stroll from the tony shops and restaurants on that little boardwalk of Botox, Parrilla Liberty might as well be on Mars.

The restaurant itself is modest to an almost-seedy extreme. Nestled on the ground floor of an aging apartment building, it uses the kind of minimal signage that's either a vision test or an afterthought. A mosh pit of various edifices surround, some old and neatly tended, others vacant or abandoned, with peeling paint and boarded-up windows that stare out at the street like sightless eyes.

Oh, did I mention Parrilla Liberty is cheap? As in blessedly, absurdly, unbelievably cheap?

I did? Well, it's worth repeating. For the price of an appetizer at just about any restaurant on the Beach, you'll get a complete dinner large enough to leave you groaning and to do double duty as lunch the next day.

And did I talk about huge? As in portions so big you want to suggest the staff consider sending out maybe a little less food so there's some left for other diners.

I did that too? Well, it's the truth. Take Liberty's "parrillada for one." The princely sum of $14 gets you a plump, inky-purple blood sausage, rich, unctuous, and full of deep, dusky flavor; a link of bouncy, piquant chorizo; a big chunk of sweetbreads, firm yet creamy, perfect with a squeeze of lemon; a thin slab of short rib, cut across the bone, a little chewy but tasty and still pink in the center; and a fat hunk of vacio -- flank steak -- rosy-rare, surprisingly tender, full of meaty goodness under an aggressively salted crust.

And did I note it comes with your choice of fries, salad, Russian salad, rice, or mashed potatoes? And that the Russian salad -- an Argentine fave of cubed potatoes, carrots, and peas tossed with mayonnaise -- is delicious in a retro, Fifties sort of way, and the mound arrives in a bowl larger than many birdbaths?

I didn't? Well, I did now.

I should remark too that the chimichurri served with the parrillada and the sizable (for $8!), nicely done churrasco is oily and bland, with neither the sharp bite of vinegar or chilies, nor the herbal tang of fresh parsley. But the fries are wondrous -- thin, crisp, greaseless, and, once salted, impossible to stop inhaling -- and better than those served by at least one local la-di-da steak house that charges eight bucks for the platter of limp, greasy spuds alone.

Wash them down with a light, inoffensive Quilmes, an Argentine lager, or glass of fruity Argentine Merlot. You can afford it; they're inexpensive too.

If you somehow have an appetite for appetizers, housemade spinach and cheese empanadas are a worthy and filling choice, as is matambre, a terrine-like concoction typically composed of flank steak, bacon, vegetables, and hard-boiled eggs. The latter is not made in-house but is of good quality, and as I pointed out, portions are large and prices are small.

Do save room for dessert: two lacy, golden crêpes filled with outrageously luscious dulce de leche and drizzled with caramel. They'll set you back a mere four bucks and change.

Did I mention I really like this Parrilla Liberty?

I did? Good.

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Bill Citara