Chef Jeff McInnis – of Top Chef fame and more recently the Executive Chef of gigi’s in Midtown – is bringing his talents to South Beach this fall.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, arguably the most anticipated restaurant opening in 2011, brings McInnis’ version of fried chicken and southern cuisine to an already bustling food scene on the beach. To McInnis’ credit, no one is doing fried chicken, but will it be able to crack the burger and sushi scene that currently dominates?
Located at the corner of 16th Street and Lenox Ave., Yardbird is scheduled to open in September and will have 200 seats, “tip-toe” into a brunch complete with chicken and waffles, and feature a unique bourbon bar scene.
We caught up with McInnis, 33, who grew up surrounded by southern cooking, at the Bombay Sapphire and GQ Magzine mixology competition at Haven Lounge where McInnis was judging 30 different Bombay Sapphire-inspired cocktails by 30 South Florida bartenders in a five-hour span.
How did you get involved as a cocktail judge?
I have done a lot of USBG competitions and I have been involved in the mixology scene here in Miami for about 5 or 6 years, now. It’s the other side of being a chef, and definitely mixology is not that far off from being a chef, especially with all the cutting edge techniques you have nowadays.
Is it important for a successful restaurant in Miami to have a mixology component?
Absolutely. I don’t think you have to have like the crazy level of mixologists and cocktails, but definitely a good bar culture. We are doing a nice bourbon bar, for sure. I have hired Ramsey Pimentel. He has been in Miami, I think all his life, and I worked with him (at the DiLido Beach Club) at the Ritz Carlton. Ramsey is excited and has been working on some secret potions for us. (Also added to the lineup is pastry chef Peter Merrill from Sel de la Terre and L'Espalier in Boston and chef de cuisine Phillip Bryant from Norman's 180 in Coral Gables.)
Has southern cuisine always been a passion of yours?
I went to college in Charleston, S.C. so I lived there for 7 years and worked in a southern restaurant on Sullivan’s Island. Before that I grew up in the panhandle of Florida and in Alabama. So it’s been in my blood since I was a baby, and it’s the first cuisine that I learned.
So, what should we expect from Yardbird?
Obviously you can expect some great chicken. I have no problem saying that. I have tested out the fried chicken probably about a million times already. Everyday we work on the fried chicken, so it’s going to be one of the best you’ve ever seen. Obviously we are going to have a lot of southern traditions, but we are going to try and do it with today’s techniques. I don’t want to say modernized – it’s not going to be molecular (gastronomy) or stuff like that. But definitely with a smarter technique and using the entire kitchen and not just dipping everything into a fryer. We will definitely have some healthier dishes.
By Southern Table, will everything be served Family Style?
You can order a 12-piece chicken dinner if you want with a group. But we will definitely have plenty of small plates there, and the regular entrée size. And we are going to give our guests the choice – you don’t have to eat family style if you don’t want to. But there absolutely will be that (family style) element and I hope people grasp to it.
So this place will have a neighborhood feel?
We are really trying to open this restaurant for the locals. The tourists will come. But the great thing about this restaurant is that the locals will be able to afford to eat here, too. We’re trying to keep everything low and to where local people will come back.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Getting this thing opened so I can get in the kitchen and cook. This not cooking is driving me nuts. I am borrowing kitchens from buddies of mine and I have a couple of kitchens I can test in. Just not used to waiting.
And what’s the story with that running chicken video associated with Yardbird?
That’s one of my brother’s chickens in Hialeah. We came up with the idea and shot it in his backyard.
Chef Jeff McInnis. Photo: Tracey Ann Jarrett