Each December, New Times lists the Miami restaurants that closed the previous year that will be missed the most.
Writing about the closing of a restaurant is all too similar to writing an obituary: Sum up a life in too-few words.
This year, the task is made heavier by the knowledge that many — if not all — of these establishments might still be around if not for the financial impact of COVID-19. Saying goodbye is never easy, but saying goodbye to something that left in an untimely manner hurts all the more.
Each restaurant in this list will be remembered for its dishes (a lip-tingling Nashville hot chicken at Bird & Bone; a satisfying bowl of noodles at Cake Thai), but a great establishment is also one where friendships are forged, be it sipping a cafecito with a buddy at David's or, in the case of the New Times staff, holding the occasional editorial meeting over beers at Concrete Beach.
In these uncertain times, the fates of some establishments remain...uncertain. Chef Timon Balloo's magnificent spot, Balloo, for example, closed its 30-seat dining room for good and pivoted to selling meal kits from its website. The website now says the meals aren't available, and New Times hasn't been able to connect with the chef. Another: Miami's iconic 50-year veteran, the Forge, recently held an auction and sold off its fixtures and furniture, yet a call to the restaurant yields a recording that insists that the restaurant is renovating in anticipation of the next half-century. Reporting these as deaths would be, as a wise man once said, premature.
For now, sound the tribute cannon for these ten Miami restaurants that we lost in 2020.
Bird & Bone
Richard Hale's tribute to Southern fare at the Confidante Hotel in Miami Beach opened in November 2016 with a menu of comfort-food favorites that included cheddar biscuits, smoked fish dip, and shrimp and grits. But the star of the restaurant was its Nashville hot chicken. The brined chicken was seasoned with cayenne pepper, hot paprika, ground mustard, and garlic before being fried to order, drizzled with honey, and served with pickles. Though Hales is best known for his Asian-inspired dishes, his version of the classic hot chicken was masterful. It remains, to this day, the best Nashville hot chicken in Miami and is sorely missed.
Cake Thai Kitchen
Chef Phuket Thongsodchaveondee, better known as "Cake," worked at Makoto in Bal Harbour before opening a tiny restaurant in a seedy strip on Biscayne Boulevard. The unassuming little spot quickly became the place chefs went on their day off, lured by the talents of the young chef's dishes, which were a far cry from Miami's typical stab at Thai cuisine. Cake opened other iterations of Cake Thai Kitchen — a location in Wynwood, a stall at 1-800-Lucky, a spot at Lincoln Eatery, and an izakaya in Midtown. But none could replicate the magic that transpired in that tiny kitchen on Biscayne. The little eatery had a loyal following, but after a six-year run, Cake opted to close his restaurant and move back to Thailand to further his culinary studies.
Concrete Beach Brewery
Concrete Beach opened its brewery and social hall in Wynwood in 2015 as a project of Alchemy & Science, a craft-beer incubator and wholly owned subsidiary of Boston Beer Company (cf. Samuel Adams), cofounded by Alan Newman and Stacey Steinmetz. The social hall quickly became a go-to spot for people who liked to listen to live music, play giant Jenga, and drink fresh beer. The brewery's core beers included the pilsner Stiltsville and the Tropic of Passion, a lavender-hued wheat beer with a tangy hint of passionfruit. Though the brewery closed, there's some good news: its Havana Lager continues to be brewed and is available at local markets, and Dogfish Head (another Boston Beer brand) is expected to take over the space in the coming months.
David's Café Cafecito
For more than four decades, David's Café was a Miami Beach staple where you could get a cafecito at the ventanita, lunch at the counter, or even a fancy dinner in the dining room. The restaurant moved several times but finally closed this past August. Owner Adrian Gonzalez told New Times his business just couldn't survive the pandemic. "We looked for some relief in the way of government grants. We did get PPP money — and that went to help pay our employees — but we were still a day late and a dollar short," Gonzalez said. He added that he hoped to be able to revive the restaurant his parents, Alfredo and Maria Gonzalez, founded in the 1970s. And, true to his word, he's hosting a pop-up of the beloved café at Soho Beach House, with plans to do more in the future.
Ember and Kaido
When Brad Kilgore opened Alter in Wynwood in 2015, Miami was smitten with the dishes that came from its open kitchen. With several James Beard Award nominations under his belt, Kilgore opened two establishments in the Design District. Kaido, a chic Japanese izakaya, opened in 2018, Ember in 2019. At Ember, Kilgore tapped into his Kansas City roots to create an establishment that offered everything from fried chicken to lasagna. Of course, this being a Kilgore restaurant, the dishes were anything but simple. The chicken was brined for 24 hours and smoked before being battered and fried, and the lasagna was made with — literally — dozens of layers. Upstairs at Kaido, Kilgore served chic cocktails and a superb crab rangoon. Kaido also housed a secret bar called Ama, a tiny room, accessible via a secret passageway, that offered an array of top-flight Japanese whiskies.
John Martin's Irish Pub
For more than 30 years, John Martin's Irish Pub was the place to knock back a pint or two and listen to Irish folk music in Coral Gables. The restaurant and bar was founded in 1989, when childhood friends Martin Lynch and John Clarke decided to bring a bit of their hometown of Killinkere, Ireland, to the 305. John Martin's Irish Pub achieved iconic status, not least for its blowout St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Every March 17 for nearly two decades, patrons festooned in green spilled onto the street to listen to bagpipers and folk bands while drinking Guinness and feasting on shepherd's pie and corned beef and cabbage. Though cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston boast authentic Irish pubs, John Martin's was one of the few that truly brought the sights, sounds, and flavors of Ireland to South Florida.
Obra Kitchen Table
In 2018, Venezuelan chef Carlos García made his Miami debut with the opening of his first U.S. restaurant, Obra Kitchen Table. From 2013 to 2016, García's Alto in Caracas held a spot on Latin America's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" list. In Miami, García offered upscale comfort food in Brickell's Jade Building, off SW 14th Street near the waterfront. The 3,000-square-foot restaurant featured an open kitchen with a wrap-around counter, allowing diners to watch the chefs in action and discuss the food while they ate. Obra was a favorite both for its stunning interior and Venezuelan-influenced dishes cooked on a Josper grill. Sadly, just two years in, the restaurant announced its closure with a message on Facebook: "Our memories and experiences that were created at our kitchen table are worth more than anything and everything, Obra will forever live in our hearts, and of course, our stomachs!"
Ortanique on the Mile
For 21 years, Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley served bright, comforting dishes that tapped into the flavors of the Caribbean. Although Ortanique was considered fine-dining, it managed to be warm and inviting, thanks to its brightly colored dining room and the hospitality Hutson and her family provided. In an open letter posted on Facebook in July, Hutson and Shirley described the restaurant's patrons as "part of the Ortanique family," adding, "We knew the tables you liked, the servers you requested, drinks and wine you loved. When your orders came in the kitchen, we knew exactly how you wanted your food cooked." Hutson and Shirley remain busy with various projects, but the closure hit close to the bone. In a phone conversation with New Times in July, the chef found it hard to say goodbye to so many memories. "What do I do with all the stories and awards that I have framed on my walls?" Hutson said. "Do I put them in some box somewhere, or do I close my eyes and throw them all away?"
The Seven Dials
Husband-and-wife team Andrew Gilbert and Katie Sullivan took a risk five years ago by opening a traditional English pub in Coral Gables. After all, in a city that's known for balmy breezes and pastelitos, would Miamians get excited about fish and chips and mushy peas? Turns out that dishes like house-made corned beef and lamb ribs, paired with a curated selection of local beers, speak a universal language. The restaurant also offered an antidote to Miami's twee avocado-toast brunches and limitless glasses of rosé: a hearty English breakfast and a glass of ale.
When Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr opened an outpost of New York City's Upland in 2017, Miami Beach instantly fell for the restaurant's soft lighting, rustic-chic ambiance, and fire-roasted dishes. The restaurant, helmed by chef Justin Smillie at its opening, was equal parts elegant and accessible, offering wood-fired pizzas, ten-dollar cheeseburger specials, and a killer wine list. In September the restaurant closed its doors and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the time, the Philadelphia Business Journal quoted Starr as saying Upland was yet another casualty of COVID: "The realities of the impact of the pandemic and the gamble on the unknowns of when life will resume left this specific operating entity with little choice. The economic terms and continued constraints on the business made continued operations at this location very difficult to weather the storm."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.