The sign over the door to the new Kush in Wynwood stops me in my tracks.
“No hostess. No Corona. No vodka. No clubby music. Just craft beer.”
That’s my kind of place. And Kush, the second gastropub from owner Matt Kuscher and his partners at Lokal in Coconut Grove, is the kind of place Miami could use more of: independent, unpretentious and affordable.
Here’s the thing: While its beer program is divine, Kush has room to improve on its food side.
The brief menu includes a few favorites from Lokal, like a fried-chicken-on-waffles sandwich and a burger built from Florida grassfed beef, Florida honey and Florida avocado.
Florida gator also shows up at both restaurants. At Kush it’s chopped into chunks, battered in what tastes like a tempura-funnel cake hybrid, fried and stacked Jenga-like onto an Old Bay-dusted plate. Served with sides of creamy garlic and spicy mayo, this gator is beer-drinkin’ food with a sense of place.
What Kush leaves behind is some of Lokal’s lighter fare, like crave-worthy fish sandwiches and better-than-you’d-think veggie and turkey burgers.
Gastropub food should entice you to order another round, not yearn for a nap. The latter is how I felt after knife-and-forking my way through a Kush & Hash burger: a mess of fried egg, bacon and beef hash on a waffle bun with a side of maple syrup. Is this bringing something to the culinary table other than a sticky, sloppy dare?
I also wondered why Kush goes through the trouble of telling customers where the chicken for a sandwich comes from (Collier County) and how it’s raised (free-range) only to sog it down under melted cheese and avocado and honey mustard and raw onions — we asked for no onions, but they came anyway — until any chicken terroir is an afterthought.
A charcuterie plate is a gastropub-menu must; serving it on a wooden plank is optional but a nice touch. The closest thing Kush offers is rough-cut slices of dry boar sausage on a plain-white plate with limp fried pickles.
You’re better off starting with a grilled cheese on rye and tomato soup; the earthy, oozy Gruyère is such a comforting pairing with the acidic tang of warm, pureed tomatoes.
The pastrami-on-rye sandwich is equally loveable in its salty, cheesy, sure-I’ll-have-another-beer appeal. They may not be local, but Kush’s sweet potato fries are the best I’ve had anywhere: hot and crispy and seasoned just right.
Tables propped on kegs leave little room for knees and are downright uncomfortable for anyone taller than 5-foot-5. Grab a seat at the bar, if you can: Kush becomes standing-room-only on weekends.
The bar also offers the best vantage of the chalkboard beer specials, which on my visits included Hornswaggled, a rare, vanilla-aged Irish red ale from Cigar City in Tampa. Kush served it through a nitrogenated draft line to enhance the beer’s creamy qualities.
Kush’s 18 well-curated taps rotate frequently and showcase local, national and international craft breweries. A reserve list highlighted by large-format bottles from Belgian houses like Cantillon is the stuff of beer-geek dreams.
Each brew is served in proper, clean glassware. Everyone who works there knows what they’re talking about and is quick to offer a sample pour.
The best gastropubs serve great food along with great beer. Kush has the beer part down. A few kitchen tweaks would elevate Kush to the level of its very good sibling restaurant.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense. Follow @MiamiHeraldFood on Twitter.