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The Seven Biggest Miami Food Stories of 2013

The Miami food scene really came into its own in 2013, with local Miami chefs opening innovative restaurants and the culinary community evolving into a sophisticated and cohesive entity. It's also been a year of drama and tragedy. In 2013, Terrazza's executive chef, Stefano Riccioletti, was struck and killed by...
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The Miami food scene really came into its own in 2013, with local Miami chefs opening innovative restaurants and the culinary community evolving into a sophisticated and cohesive entity.

It's also been a year of drama and tragedy. In 2013, Terrazza's executive chef, Stefano Riccioletti, was struck and killed by a young drunk driver, and the Miami food and nightlife scene was shaken to its core. Chef/restaurateur Jonathan Eismann was charged with vehicular homicide, and an electrical fire shut down the beloved Enriqueta's Café for several months.

There have also been surprising battles and an incredible success. Here are the most intriguing stories we followed in 2013.

7. Like a Thief in the Night

Restaurants, like living creatures, have a life cycle. A restaurant is conceived, planned, and brought to life. Then, hopefully, it thrives for a long time -- sometimes a decade, sometimes a century or more, as evidenced by Joe's Stone Crab and Tobacco Road. But sometimes, a restaurant has a sudden and unexpected ending. That was the case with several Miami restaurants that abruptly closed. South Street Restaurant & Bar closed in August 2013 despite having a strong celebrity following, and the Hoxton shuttered its doors in October after being open about a year -- despite serving what Miami New Times dubbed the best cocktails. But most shocking of all was the demise of Box Park, the Brickell restaurant that offered inventive food and received critical accolades. Our own Emily Codik wrote that chef Matt Hinckley's cooking "can transform the wonted into something unique." Box Park, we hardly knew ye.

6. J. Wakefield Brewing's CrowedBrewed Success

Johnathan Wakefield has been passionate about beer for years, but in 2013 he saw his dreams of brewing beer go into hyperdrive with the success of his CrowdBrewed campaign.

With a goal of opening a full-production 15-barrel brewing facility in Wynwood, Wakefield asked the general public for financial assistance. His original target of $55,000 was doubled when nearly 500 backers pledged a total of $111,690.00 to assist in his efforts. The gamble worked, because J. Wakefield Brewing is scheduled to open in March 2014 -- complete with a speakeasy-style tasting room and a beer garden.

See also: Johnathan Wakefield Brewing Up a Storm

5. Enriqueta's Fire

On April 10, an electrical fire damaged Enriqueta's and forced it to close. The unassuming little Wynwood spot was a favorite place to get a good meal at a fair price, and owner Jose Luis Pla vowed to reopen as soon as possible. Unfortunately, there was more damage than originally thought, and a complete remodel of the little sandwich shop was required.

Finally, four months after the incident, Enriqueta's opened in August. All over Miami, a collective sigh of relief was heard from people craving a well-made cafecito.

4. Jeff McInnis' Interesting Year

It seemed like Jeff McInnis, the handsome, tow-headed Top Chef alum, had the perfect, well-structured life. Married with a young child, McInnis was chef/partner of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, one of the most popular restaurants in South Beach. He achieved much national acclaim as a James Beard Award finalist and was invited to make fried chicken at the Bon Appétit test kitchen.

In July, McInnis left Yardbird to "take some time with his family." He turned up in Northern California, saying, "For the time being, I'm just going to cook and relax. It's humbling getting back to the basics of why I got into this industry." A few months later, he announced plans to open Root and Bone in New York City with partner and fellow Top Chef contestant Janine Booth. The two business partners are also dating.

McInnis' ex-wife, Melissa McInnis, then shared some unsavory words about him with and Eater. McInnis denied all the nasty talk in a statement to Short Order, saying, "My ex-wife and I were only married for one year, during which I received the most amazing gift, my daughter Bryce."

3. Chef Bee Departs Khong River House

When Khong River House opened in December 2012, it catapulted chef Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, or Chef Bee, into the limelight with a seminar at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and multiple articles written about the soft-spoken chef. Six months after Khong opened, Bee suddenly announced his departure from the restaurant that was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2013 by the James Beard Foundation, to return full-time to Oishi Thai, his family restaurant.

A few months later, Bee was sued by 50 Eggs Restaurant Company LLC, Khong's parent company. Bee's attorneys then filed a motion to dismiss. The lawsuit was dismissed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court November 1, 2013. Chef Bee recently announced plans to open NaiYaRa Asian Street Fare in South Beach in the fall of 2014.

See also: 50 Eggs Sues Chef Bee, Claims He Broke "Out in Hives if He Had to Cook"

2. Jonathan Eismann Involved in Fatal Hit-and-Run

At one time, Jonathan Eismann was one of the most powerful men on the Miami restaurant scene, being tied to several restaurants including Pacific Time, Spartico, Pizza Volante, Fin, and Q. Eismann then turned to real estate, and not much was heard from the former restaurant mogul.

Then, in October 2012, Eismann's name resurfaced in the news when he was involved in a hit-and-run that killed pedestrian Jean Carlos Ruiz. Eismann was charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident with property damage nearly a year later, on June 26, 2013. A trial hearing is set for January 21, 2014.

1. Party Princess Tragedy

In the early hours of January 29, 2013, Terrazza executive chef Stefano Riccioletti was crossing a quiet strip of Collins Avenue near the Shelborne when he was struck and killed by Karlie Tomica as she was driving home from a bartending gig at Nikki Beach.

Tomica, a former FIU student, fled the scene, but a good Samaritan followed her while calling 911. Police arrested the then 20-year-old at her Miami Beach apartment. Tests concluded that her blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

Tomica, a self-described "party princess," was charged with DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident with death, DUI with property damage, and resisting an officer without violence. Tomica reached a plea deal with prosecutors and will spend four years in prison, followed by two years of house arrest and 15 years of probation.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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