The Magic City is rich in culture and stories. It’s a place where people come from around the world, lured by the promise of sunlit days and sultry nights. In the book that is Miami, there are many stories. Some are happy, some are tragic, but all are compelling.
This year, the culinary community suffered several losses, including the death of a man who forever changed the local bar scene. The city also made news, first when a TV prankster duped a food critic and then when an internationally known restaurateur served a dictator.
On the positive side, a cat café opened, and a beloved chef was nominated for one of the planet’s top honors.
Take a seat and pour a glass as we look back on the stories that shaped Miami’s food scene in 2018.
Sweet Liberty’s John Lermayer
John Lermayer. In June, shock waves rippled through the local bar and restaurant communities upon news that John Lermayer was found dead in his Miami apartment at the age of 45. The New York native moved to Miami in 2004. When he created the cocktail menu for the Florida Room at the Delano, he started Miami’s cocktail revolution.
Lermayer worked at the area’s best watering holes, served drinks at the White House, and cofounded one of the World’s 50 Best Bars, Sweet Liberty.
Despite all of those career accomplishments, Lermayer will be remembered best for his humor and humanity. Generous with his time, he mentored bartenders and traveled the world spreading the gospel of the cocktail while raising a teenage son. Lermayer is mourned and celebrated as a good friend, a great father, a rabid New York Rangers fan, and the guy who allowed patrons to “pursue happiness” in a glass. Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supple Company, 237 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-763-8217; mysweetliberty.com.
Salt Bae. When restaurant owner and Instagram star Nusret Gökçe, better known as Salt Bae, opened an outpost of his high-end steakhouse, Nusr-Et, in Brickell a year ago, it was a divisive move. Some people lauded another high-priced restaurant, and others found the chef’s signature salt sprinkle too gimmicky. But it wasn’t until this past September that he became one of the most reviled men in Miami.
Salt Bae posted on Instagram a video of himself presenting a steak to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and First Lady Cilia Flores. Though the meal was served at Salt Bae’s Istanbul eatery, it prompted an immediate outcry from Miamians — many of whom have friends and relatives starving in Venezuela at the hands of the cruel leader. Among the critics was celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, who said, “In Venezuela, people are starving. There are no medicines, no necessities that people need. To see the irony of this man eating in one of the most expensive restaurants is unacceptable.” Sen. Marco Rubio reminded his constituents that Salt Bae had a Miami location, and soon protests raged outside the restaurant. The steakhouse remains open despite the backlash. Nusr-Et, 999 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-415-9990; nusr-et.com.
Chef José Andrés
Courtesy of Think Food Group
José Andrés. In a world that can seem chaotic and cruel, a handful of people shine in their words and deeds. One such person is José Andrés. The award-winning chef and his nonprofit group, World Central Kitchen, have traveled to disaster-stricken locales to provide the most basic of human needs: nourishment.
After Hurricane Maria plowed through the Caribbean, World Central Kitchen served more than 3.5 million meals. More recently, Andrés and his team fed first responders at the site of California’s Camp Fire. For these and myriad other accomplishments, the chef was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, and New Times named him best philanthropist. Now Andrés has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination process is shrouded in secrecy, so the world will have to wait until this fall to learn the winner. But the nod is simply confirmation of what the world’s culinary community already knows.
Food writer Bill Jilla
Courtesy of Showtime
Sacha Baron Cohen. In his Showtime series Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen has shocked the nation by showing politicians endorsing kindergarten gun-training sessions and pulling down their trousers — mostly in the name of patriotism. Cohen, who became famous as the fictional Kazakhstani reporter Borat, decided to take on the self-important world of food journalism. Naturally, the episode was filmed in Miami.
In one scene, Cohen, disguised as a British ex-con trying to rehabilitate himself as a chef, prepares a three-course meal for Bill Jilla, a South Florida food writer from DinnerReviews.com. After being served a dish described as loin of vegetarian-fed Chinese dissident over cauliflower fillet — in other words, human flesh — Jilla describes it as “buttery” before looking into the camera to thank the human sacrifice’s family for his meal. Jilla became an overnight sensation — for all the wrong reasons — and DinnerReviews.com was deactivated almost immediately.
The Wynwood Yard. It was only a few years ago that Wynwood was an emerging neighborhood that attracted scrappy Miamians with the dream of opening bars, restaurants, and shops. One such person was Della Heiman, who launched the Wynwood Yard, a self-described culinary incubator and entertainment center in 2015, by persuading property owner David Lombardi of Lombardi Properties to lease her the vacant lot for ten months. “That turned into an almost-three-year run,” she said in an interview with New Times.
The Yard quickly became a favorite among locals and in-the-know tourists for well-priced drinks, an ever-changing roster of food trucks, and live music. The venue experienced lows and highs, including being named ground zero for 2016’s Zika scare and having Shakira serenade a surprised audience in 2017. The Wynwood Yard and the neighboring indie theater O Cinema are set to close this spring to make way for a mixed-use high-rise, but fans of the Yard can dry their tears: Heiman is working on Yard concepts in Doral and North Beach. The Wynwood Yard, 56 NW 29th St., Miami; 305-351-0366; thewynwoodyard.com.
Waffle House. It might be difficult to believe that a city on a 24-hour party cycle didn’t boast one of the nation’s most beloved round-the-clock breakfast spots. There was a time when Miamians jonesing for waffles at 3 a.m. had to travel to Broward County for their fix.
That void was filled last May, when the first Dade County Waffle House opened in Miami Gardens. Local documentary filmmaker Billy Corben was delighted with the arrival, saying, “If you build it, they will come. It’s like a Field of Dreams of waffles.” Waffle House, 19675 NW Second Ave., Miami Gardens; 305-409-1244; wafflehouse.com.
Courtesy of Wynwood Brewing
Big Beer. In 2013, Miami welcomed its first craft brewery when Wynwood Brewing opened. In a short five years, South Florida has become a formidable region for locally made craft suds. Now these small mom-and-pop (or father-and-son, as is the case with Wynwood Brewing) breweries are finding it hard to take their operations to the next level without additional funding. Enter the big boys.
In 2017, Constellation Brands purchased Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha. This past October, Wynwood Brewing’s Luis Brignoni Sr. and Luis Brignoni Jr. announced Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) was purchasing their Miami brewery. Two years before that announcement, CBA had purchased a minority share. Portland-based CBA is the seventh-largest craft brewing company in the United States, and its portfolio includes Kona Brewing, Appalachian Mountain Brewery, Cisco Brewers, Omission Brewing, Redhook Ale Brewery, Square Mile Cider, and Widmer Brothers.
Miami’s beer scene is rapidly becoming big business. Veza Sur is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev; Concrete Beach is held by a division of the Boston Beer Company; and Heineken-owned Lagunitas is planning a brewery in the area. Now that CBA’s purchase of Wynwood Brewing is complete, J. Wakefield is the only independently owned brewery in the neighborhood. Wynwood Brewing Company, 565 NW 24th St., Miami; 305-982-8732; wynwoodbrewing.com.
Mario Tama. Getty Images for CNN Turner Press Room
Anthony Bourdain. Anthony Bourdain had the seemingly perfect job. The chef, author, and TV personality earned his living and the respect and admiration of the world by chronicling his adventures through food and travel. He showed us that the simple act of breaking bread or sharing a beer could break language and cultural barriers.
Though he traveled the world (and called New York City home base), Bourdain had a soft spot for Miami and Miami Beach. He was a frequent visitor to Mac’s Club Deuce, got tattoos at Miami Ink, and shot several episodes of his shows here. He was also a frequent face at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. A Bourdain appearance at an event often meant an instant sellout, with fans clamoring to experience his rapier wit and antics.
So when word got out that the award-winning writer, TV host, and chef had died at 61 while filming an episode of his CNN show, Parts Unknown, in France, the planet dimmed. His death was ruled a suicide.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager summed it up when he said Bourdain forever changed how we look at food and one another. “Anthony was a gifted storyteller. I think his book Kitchen Confidential changed the culinary world. Through his writing and his television shows, he took us on a journey of eating that most people would never get a chance to experience.”
Photo by Lena Mobin
Cat Café. Sure, the tourist websites make South Beach look like paradise, but the city can be tough to live in, especially for stray cats. Celyta Jackson wanted to do something after she noticed a colony of kitties living by her condo, so she opened Miami Beach’s first cat café. The 2,900-square-foot space offers coffee drinks and treats from local vendors such as Honeybee Donuts and Cindy Lou’s Cookies, but it’s also a halfway house for about 30 vetted felines that were saved from the streets and are awaiting “furrever” homes.
After guests are done snacking, they’re invited to step into “Purradise,” a separate area where the cats reside. The beach-themed space, festooned with kitty-size lifeguard stations and sunny scapes, is designed for maximum cuteness. In the event you fall in love, you can adopt a cat ($75) or two ($125). All have been spayed/neutered, microchipped, and vaccinated. That’s more than you can say about your last Tinder date. Cat Café, 1423 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; catcafesobe.com.