Tongue & Cheek: Cheeky Food, Playful Cocktails (Scrumptious Pictures)

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It's happy hour at Tongue & Cheek. Almost every stool is occupied as the bartender explains the specials, which include $4 craft beers, $8 specialty cocktails, and the daily $10 "family meal." 

Before we get a chance to order, chef/partner Jamie DeRosa emerges from the kitchen wearing a gray utility shirt embroidered with the Tongue & Cheek logo. "No chef coats here," he says. "It's cooler not to wear them."

By cooler, he means temperature-wise in the kitchen, but there's no denying there's also a cool factor in the dress code at the restaurant, which gives off a vibe as much downtown Manhattan as downtown Miami Beach.

In fact, Tongue & Cheek's subway-tiled walls, Atlas lamps, and thick brown tables are reminiscent of Greenwich Village bistro Pastis. Prominently displayed in the dining room is a framed picture of an ox in a top hat and gold chains, one of the quirky animal mascots on the servers' T-shirts, the coasters, and the postcards that come with the check.

DeRosa is in a jovial mood, even though the restaurant's point-of-sale

system is down. Actually, all Internet is down in the SoFi section of Miami Beach. With a

laugh, he says that owning a restaurant is different from merely heading

a kitchen. Attention must be paid to everything -- from keeping the music played at an even decibel to making sure the

computers have 4G backup. But with ownership comes pride. "The juice is

worth the squeeze," he says.

Then comes the first plate, a cafeteria-style red tray

with sections. It's the daily

"family meal" ($10), served at the bar only. Today it's barbecued beef brisket, potato salad, souffle, corn on the

cob, and a brownie for dessert. Served with a bottled "retro" soda of choice (we got orange Fanta), it's a good deal. DeRosa says that

while he worked at Wolfgang Puck's Spago, neighbors would knock

on the kitchen's back door during the restaurant's nightly "family

meal" and the staff would invite them in to share the food. "I wanted to

do something like that -- to cater to people who live in the

neighborhood. I thought to myself: What can you afford to eat every

day? So we came up with the family-meal concept."

After the

family meal, items arrive from the snack bar. A

plate of almonds, sprinkled with olive-oil dust, are presented. Some are

sweet, some spicy, some savory. All would go well with a cold beer


Pan con tomate is decorated with pearls of garlic sauce and cilantro ($8).

Appetizers, called "mids," are next. Fried clams are served in a

basket, the way they're presented at every clam shack in Rhode Island.

They're sweet and tender, with hot pickled cheery pepper slices thrown

into the mix for balance ($11).

Cauliflower panna cotta with uni

and American caviar is presented beautifully. It's silky, decadent, and a sure way to get someone -- anyone -- to eat their

vegetables ($15).

Roasted trout is served with salted, cured pork

belly, sweet corn, and fregola. A corn bisque is poured on the trout tableside ($28).

Here's the deal with the burger ($15). It's made

with all ground-beef cheek and plunked on a house-made brioche bun with

cheddar pimento cheese and sweet onions. There are only 15 made each

day. "It's not that I want to be some jerk about it, but we hand-grind

the meat and then we have to make each burger individually in a pan."

It's so labor-intensive that DeRosa is limiting the number his kitchen turns out daily. Is is worth getting there early to nab one? Honestly, yes. The meat has a great char on the outside, with juicy and tender beef inside, and is served on a brioche so delicious that DeRosa should think of investing in a much-needed Miami bakery.

DeRosa worked directly on the beverage program, which features a bit of molecular gastronomy in the form of a berry margarita made with liquid nitrogen and four ounces of premium tequila ($22).

If spirited cocktails are your thing, try the Bourbon for Apples, served with little apple ice cubes. DeRosa, a fan of bourbon, has stocked the bar with the entire Pappy Van Winkle

line. "So far, no one's gone for the 23-year. I might just have to drink

it myself," the chef kids. If he needs someone to drink with, we're always available.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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