2.5 stars for Kris Wessel’s Florida Cookery on South Beach

Florida Cookery is the kind of place a food writer loves to have on her docket. Though far from perfect, it’s got a few fantastic dishes and a good story. Chef-partner Kris Wessel borrowed the old-fashioned name and even some recipes from a vintage cookbook handed down from his dad’s mom, Grandma Esther.

Wessel has loads of talent and an impressive white-trash to White House range. Overall, his flavors here are bright and exciting, but sometimes need modulation. Salads made with fantastically fresh local produce, for example, seem to drown in highly acidic and salty dressings. So far, this welcome addition remains a hidden gem, frequented by hotel guests and loyal Wessel fans. Still, with some work, it might well be the story of the year: Local boy makes good. Damn good food, that is.

Ambience: Set in the newly renovated James Royal Palm Hotel, a 1939 Deco jewel, it’s Wessel’s biggest project yet—breakfast, lunch and dinner in a sprawling dining room that can accommodate 200, with patio seating for nearly as many. Clean-lined wooden furniture on white terrazzo creates an ocean liner-meets-Danish-modern look, and an ’80s soundtrack from Blondie to The Cars lends a lively touch even with few people in the place.

What Worked

  • Biscayne Boulevard Shrimp: Plump, addictive head-on shrimp in a chunky, mahogany-colored sauce blending lemon, garlic, Worcestershire sauce a buttery but bright finish and a kick of heat
  • A nice trio of oxtail, oyster and alligator empanadas – slightly doughy, perfectly flaky puffy & moist golden-brown pillows qith a cayenne-spiked lemon rouille
  • Grapefruit ceviche with a sprightly corn and pumpkin seed salsa (pictured)
  • A standout burger named for South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager
  • An elaborate sorrel-lychee-glazed quail
  • Well-treated grouper with a citrus-spiked beurre noir, a cheesy grit cake and a few snappy string beans
  • Sweet whole local spiny lobster dramatically split down the middle, propped out of the plate and complemented by subtle garlic coins
  • Perfect fried tomatoes
  • Banana- and pecan-studded bread pudding doused with smooth and smoky whiskey sauce


What Didn’t Work

  • Thin & wiry frog legs
  • Overly salted summer squash threads
  • A dry tawny, roast half chicken
  • Knuckly and gristly oxtail
  • Friendly, but green servers