Despite the fact that Brickell isn’t primarily known as a food destination, it hosts my Top 3 restaurants for each of my categories: locals “new era”, imports and fast casual. Naoe, db Bistro Moderne and My Ceviche are all in Brickell and have been my favorite restaurants in Miami for a while (J&G Grill recently topped db Bistro Moderne in the Imports category but we all know why).
My rankings where pretty much blank for Brickell below these great options, since the majority of the restaurants, some of which I’ve tried and some of which I’d rather stay away from, are really not my type. Momi Ramen and the adjacent Sumi both created a small culinary oasis in the area this year with their great, authentic and well executed Ramen and Yakitori shops. Zuma at the Epic hotel is a nice modern Japanese option (specially for a night out with friends), but you won’t wake up the next day talking about their already commoditized miso black cod or tempura soft shell crabs.
There are though, two chefs in Brickell that may cause you to point your GPS towards zip code 33131 next time you’re deciding where to go for dinner (or lunch or brunch). The first one is Aaron Brooks, a native Australian who has been working for the Four Seasons Group for over 10 years and who launched Edge Steak & Bar at their Miami premises back in 2011. Aaron is extremely passionate about coming up with creative dishes using the best produce he can get his hands on. His steak comes from grass-fed beef at family owned Creekstone farms in Arkansas, which gives him an “edge” with respect to other steakhouses. Thanks to Aaron, Edge Steak & Bar is a chef driven steakhouse, which makes it stand out from a space that has become pretty much standardized when it comes to the offering. Berkshire pork belly from Iowa and plenty of local seafood make up his repertoire of proteins.
Prior to Miami Aaron worked for the Four Seasons in Boston for 2 years and before that he was in Vancouver for 8, experiences that help him bring a different approach to the tropical produce available in Miami and therefore impress his predominantly latino clients. I was first exposed to chef Aaron last year at the Cobaya dinner, from which I can still remember and taste the incredible sausage soup with herbs. Since then I’ve been a regular visitor at Edge, specially since I work at the Four Seasons building!, and I have to say their shrimp & quinoa salad and fish n’ chips are difficult to beat options for lunch in the neighborhood.
Belon oysters have always been my favorite, but recently Aaron elevated one with lemon, fennel and apple making it the best oyster experienced in recent memory. When Aaron makes battered seafood, it’s delicately crisp and savory, and you can still taste the shrimp and calamari’s depth of flavor. The way it should be. Quail, a challenging, delicate protein, was cooked in BBQ sauce over a magnificent bed of corn and sorghum, perfectly seasoned. When it comes o steak, the produce speaks for itself, but the perfection at the technique thanks to his infra-red grill makes it magnificent, as was the perfectly pink on the inside slices of tomahawk I had there recently. These were brilliantly paired with small dollops of eggplant puree, chimichurri and romesco sauce.
Aaron’s passion and dedication has paid back, as evidenced by his large following amongst the local foodie crowd. Edge Steak & bar and the Four Seasons must be proud to have him, and so should be Brickell.
The second chef and new kid on the Brickell block is Matt Hinckley, who together with Crystal Cullison makes up the culinary duo behind Boxpark, opened recently by themselves and the same group behind the adjacent The Hoxton; led by Santiago Rodriguez who used to head beverage operations for the Nobu group.
Chef Matt was a familiar face to those who follow the Miami dining scene closely. He used to work for Michael Schwartz at his flagship restaurant Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and led the kitchen at Harry’s Pizzeria during its opening months. It’s no surprise local foodies flocked to Boxpark as soon as it opened its doors. I’ve had the privilege to dine a few times at the bar of Boxpark (best seat in the house) and have enjoyed some terrific dishes as well as some great conversation with Chef Matt. His approach to what he wants to offer is different from the usual Miami restaurant, but from what I’ve seen and experienced in cities like San Francisco and New York City, he’s on to something: he wants you to have a savory and great tasting meal, but he also wants it to be good for you.
Which means you won’t find pig ears and feet battered and fried in duck fat at Boxpark, unfortunately for some, but great for those who don’t necessarily want to down 3,000 calories in one sitting every time they go out for dinner.
For instance, cauliflower is sliced twice to obtain a perfectly thick “steak” which is placed on the grill and presented with beautifully seasoned arugula leafs. House-made pickles and salads are centerpiece to Matt’s menu, the highlight of which is his ancient grain salad; a wonderful “impossible to make at home” mixture of grains, seeds, berries, nuts and other great things that are good for and that together taste magnificent.
Fish is always catch of the day and literally filleted minutes prior to hitting the pan. There is always a combination of herbs and vegetables to side the impossibly fresh fish, as well as a generous helping of some delicious spread such as the pepper based Muhammara. Scallops are perfectly paired with prosciutto, just one of the many charcuterie Matt makes in-house. A spicy chickpea stew becomes wonderfully rich thanks to a perfectly fried farm egg. The grill at Boxpark is put to perfect use, as evidenced by the hearts of lettuce salad and the octopus dish, both of which I highly recommend.
You will notice at Boxpark certain menu items are SPE certified. SPE is a unique restaurant certification and consulting program designed to enhance the nutritional quality of meals, without compromising taste, and chef Matt has brought them into his kitchen to make sure he isn’t just telling you his dishes are good for you, there’s actual certification behind it. Given the ever increasing healthy conscious crowd, this will bode well for him and Boxpark, and is a direction some vanguardist chefs are also taking. Chef Matt submits recipes to SPE Certified for a nutritional analysis. Their team of chef nutritionists and dietitians will provide feedback to help maximize the nutritional benefits in the dishes. For example, if a dish has a fat-soluble protein but not enough fat in the recipe they might suggest adding olive oil so that the oil breaks down the proteins and your body doesn’t have to work so hard to do it. Another example: when he submitted his Chilled Beet Salad he had a dollop of crème fraiche on it. They suggested a living yogurt because it carries a much higher nutritional value. Matt decided it really didn’t change the dish from his initial vision so he ran with it.
Boxpark and Chef Matt’s menu is tattooed with superfoods – even if they aren’t on healthful dishes. It’s almost like the aisles at Wholefoods! Right now they’ve got freekeh, quinoa, goji berries, raw nuts, flax seeds, kimchi, and kale. They might, for instance, put pork belly on quinoa and kale. It doesn’t make pork belly healthier, but it introduces these foods to people who might not order them otherwise.
This entire healthier approach stretches out to desserts; Chef Crystal’s creations, which follow the same philosophy as Chef Matt focus on natural sweeteners such as honey instead of processed sugar and flours from coconut and grains rather than white processed flour. So make sure you leave room for her delicate creations, such as the wonderful coconut and passion fruit layer cake or her peanut and dark chocolate banana split.
Boxpark is a fresh, welcome option to Brickell and one that’s out there to help you eat better. A fantastic addition to the Brickell dining scene.
That’s it for this week, write to you next!