Less than a year old, LoKal is infusing young energy into the corner of Commodore Plaza and Main Highway by appealing to two totally different crowds in Coconut Grove: followers of the eat-local movement and those who prefer to follow the movement of their arm as it throws back a good beer in a cool spot. Born as a burger joint, LoKal has blossomed into so much more.
Chances are good that most of what you eat here has been grown or raised in-state. The hormone-free beef comes from a ranch in Ocala and is ground in-house every day. Owner Matthew “Kush” Kuscher buys his fish from two locals. He purchases alligator by the foot from a trapper in Central Florida and when in season, the avocados come from Homestead.He even makes his own ketchup and is trying to grow basil on the roof.
Many of the craft beers are Florida-based, including Miami Brewing Co.’s Big Rod, a rotating selection of Tampa’s Cigar City beers and a pale lager from Florida Lager in Sarasota. Kuscher takes pride in cruising around the state to visit the small breweries, just as he develops relationships with other local food purveyors. But he’s not so local-centric that he doesn’t offer beers from Belgium, England and Germany. Still, the only mass-produced labels in the place are the Pabst Blue Ribbon cans sold for two bucks each from a cooler by the front door using a cup and the honor system — a practice he started last winter to satiate Mango Strut crowds. The cooler became so popular, patrons begged him to keep it. “We try to be eco-friendly, but also appeal to the ex-frat guy,” Kuscher laughs.
There’s actually a third crowd now calling regularly at LoKal. In deference to the vet office around the corner and the Grove’s love of four-legged friends, there’s a new dog-friendly menu with organic dog biscuits, chicken and rice and meat loaf.
Kuscher grew up near Rockville, Md., but as a kid he often visited South Florida, where his grandfather owned restaurants, including the long-gone Plantation Nook and Mister Donut in Broward County. He worked in restaurants at the American Airlines Arena and managed Houston’s outlets in New York, Chicago and Coral Gables, studied hospitality at Florida International University. Many of the dishes on his menu are concoctions he and wife Priscilla dreamed up, interpreted by Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Albert Collado, who met Kuscher at Houston’s in the Gables — proof that some relationships are best when they’re made local.
Ambience: There’s a skate-punk vibe about the place, thanks to graffiti-decorated brick walls and a funky bar composed of old cassette tapes that friends from far and wide donated after Kuscher put out the call on his Facebook page. Some of the indoor-outdoor tables are made from wood chips and pallets Kuscher salvaged; other tables and stools come from defunct Miami restaurants. Old suitcases once owned by Kuscher’s parents are embedded in the base of one seating area.