Chef and ingredients locally sourced at winning Sustain

With reasonable rents, loads of parking and a streetscape that actually encourages walking, Midtown Miami has become a restaurant hotbed — a sort of Williamsburg for Miami.

One of my favorite newcomers is Sustain, where the ingredients are front and center. Since its December opening, it’s been called “Michael’s Junior,” and it does pay homage to Michael Schwartz’s Design District mecca with its daily printed menu of local bounty, from heirloom tomato salads to wood-roasted whole fish.

But the locally sourced chef, 37-year-old Alex Piñero, has worked in some of South Florida’s best kitchens, beginning with Dawn Sieber’s at Cheeca Lodge, and also references his gigs with Michelle Bernstein at the old Strand, (love that buttermilk fried chicken), Andrea and Frank Randazzo at Talula and Sergio Sigala at Casa Tua.

The setting is as welcoming as owner Brian Goldberg, managing partner Jonathan Lazar and their energetic young staff, who don’t hover but glide by with an occasional “How is everything?”

Quite good, actually.

The best items on the mostly Mediterranean menu are those that keep with the mission statement: “To provide consumers with the purest and finest local ingredients and to support farmers who take such great pride and passion in their work.”

Even the décor works with the theme. Deep eggplant-colored cushions on roomy benches, reclaimed-wood tables and mangrove “bones” create bright, earthy feel, and a subdued but hip soundtrack allows for conversation.

Lots of dishes are meant for sharing, including bite-sized, ricotta-topped pork and beef meatballs in a rich mushroom demiglace. Also good for the table is gorgeously scorched pizza with a see-through swirl of sauce, gently caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and gloriously fat leaves of emerald green spinach that clearly didn’t come from a bag.

This is, after all, the season for Florida farmers to show their colors. The 50-mile salad is a mélange of Miami’s best: wood-roasted beets, pickled purple onions and a deep green mix of Paradise Farms mizuna, arugula, mustard greens and other peppery leaves. Crumbly bits of fresh goat cheese from Redland cheesemaker Hani Khouri bring it all together.

Piñero’s best dishes come from the sea, including a bowl of perky baby black mussels in a buttery broth speckled with slivers of bacon served alongside thin, herb-dusted fries.

Also stellar is the skillfully seasoned farro that forms the backdrop for a fist-size hunk of juicy local lobster grilled to a golden hue. A half chicken is beautifully roasted and served in a cast iron skillet with a maple glaze.

The grass-fed Four Arrows beef gets points for its Central Florida sourcing, but our sliced, marmalade-topped rib-eye has superior rivals all over town. The only flat-out failure we had was beet fettucine with a flabby texture and an oddly heavy sauce of corn, zucchini and feta.

Desserts include a delicious deconstructed Key lime pie and a thick-crusted, bourbon-spiked individual pecan tart with hazelnut ice cream.

My only issue with the diverse, ever-changing, 100-bottle wine list is the shortage of by-the-glass pours. Cocktail fans will not tire of beverage director Daniel Toral’s retro and modern creations.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there are plenty of flattered chefs around town. And there are lots of diners happy to taste along the way as Source hones its own identify.

If you go

Place: Sustain

Address: Midtown, 3252 NE First Ave., Miami

Rating:★ ★ ★  (Very Good)

Contact: : 305-424-9079,

Hours: Lunch weekdays, brunch weekends until 3 p.m.; dinner 6-10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 6-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Prices: Bites $4-$6, appetizers $6-$16, entrees $16-$24, sides 6-$7, dessert $6-$10.

FYI.: Reservations suggested. Metered street parking; weekend valet $7.50 with validation. Full bar; $20 corkage for wines not on the list. AX, DS, MC. VS.


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