Miami has never been much of a barbecue town, but someone forgot to tell Hans Seitz and Kevin Kehoe, two New York transplants who opened Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue last year. With its painted green tables, concrete floor and coffeehouse vibe, Sparky’s feels more like a spot you’d stumble upon in Austin, Texas, than downtown Miami. But there it is amid the electronics stores and Cuban lunch counters, pumping out live music at night and offering tasty craft beers and a superb smoked beef brisket sandwich.
Kehoe and Seitz have been involved in Miami’s food scene since the 1980s, when they worked together in the kitchen at Who’s in the Grove inside the Mayfair. Michael Moran, now a Florida International University chef-instructor, was the executive chef, and “Sparky” was the nickname they all used for each other. Kehoe caught the barbecue bug 10 years ago after helping grill guru Steven Raichlen with a party at his Coconut Grove home. He and Seitz began experimenting, and their barbecue adventure led them to Kansas City, where they purchased their Hummer-sized commercial smoker. The two aren’t just broadening downtown Miami’s palate; they’re livening up the nightlife with live jazz, rock and rockabilly three to four nights a week.
Ambience: The gritty exterior opens into a super-casual, 50-seat space with beer ads and art from six-pack cartons stapled to the walls. Two picnic tables line one side, and big chalkboards at each end tout rotating American craft beer specials, among them Left Hand Milk Stout from Colorado and silky Maduro Brown Ale from Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. Laid-back waitresses are quick to fill sweet-tea glasses and awkward silences.
- Delicious, decadent fried pickles, covered in a crispy cornmeal crust and served with ranch dip
- Smoked chicken wings packed with smoldering flavor
- Cripsy & flaky fried catfish fingers wrapped in a cornmeal batter and served with a creamy tartar sauce.
- Baked beans, sweetened by brown sugar and warmed by cumin and house-smoked bacon
- Moist and tender beef brisket benefitting from the charred sweetness imparted by the smoker
- A tableside choice of sauces in squirt bottles – a thick and smoky house version; a thin, Carolina-style apple cider and vinegar; a sweet hoisin with ginger and lemongrass; a sweet-and-spicy guava habanero, and a scalding “hot lava” with roasted poblano peppers, jalapeños and habaneros that’s accompanied by effusive warnings
- Refreshing creamy banana pudding
What Didn’t Work
- Dry, bland hush puppies
- Nondescript fries and coleslaw
- An underlying sameness to the overpowering smokiness of the dishes – Sparky’s hazy, dry quality may be an acquired taste
Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue
204 NE First St, Miami
Hours: 11am-9pm Monday-Friday, noon-9pm Saturday-Sunday
Prices: Starters $4.95-$6, sandwiches $8.25-$8.75, entrees $9.75-$22.25, microbrew beers $3.50-$11.50