The streets of South Beach are peppered with upscale steakhouses and eclectic sushi joints catering to the rich, famous, and those who eagerly want to be seen as both. Or they’re probably twirling their fork in a stylish bowl of homemade pasta at one of the many Italian-inspired restaurants.
Another permutation of any of these concepts may seem like overkill at this point, but the trendy Pubbelly Restaurant Group is proving its place in the market with a meteoric rise in the ranks of the local dining scene.
Next week, Andreas Schreiner, Sergio Navarro and Jose Mendin will open Pubbelly Steak at 1787 Purdy Ave., their fifth restaurant in less than three years. The latest installment technically falls under the category of an American-style steakhouse, but as is the case with the rest of their repertoire -- Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, Barceloneta, and Macchialina (Italian) -- there’s a chef-driven, gastro pub twist. That means big flavors, small plates for sharing, and, most interestingly, innovative interpretations of classics – all in an approachable, almost rustic atmosphere designed by Navarro.
Feel like pounding a platter of oysters from the raw bar, picking at an exceptionally fresh heirloom tomato salad with silky burrata and watermelon, trying a few of the staggeringly savory steak dishes, and then indulging in a spoonful or more of the PB&J-inspired panicotta for dessert?
Mendin, the culinary chops behind the operation, says the ability to do all of this in one sitting is what will set this steakhouse apart from others.
“We designed the dishes to be unique and always shared so everyone gets a taste of something different. We don’t believe in the traditional appetizer, entrée, dessert formula,” Mendin said. “You’ll have more of a chance to awaken your palate if you’re adventurous and move around the menu.”
PB Steak is double the size of the group’s other restaurants, with seating for about 100 and 14 stools at the oversized bar, which features an affordable wine selection, impressive cocktail menu, and a comprehensive list of premium spirits (a first for the portfolio). The restaurant is located in the historic space where Joe Allen’s reigned for more than a dozen years as the go-to for savvy locals in the-then-quiet alcove of Sunset Harbour.
It’s the kind of large neighborhood spot that Schreiner, founding partner and managing director, has wanted for years since he discovered the “For Rent” sign in the window of what is now Pubbelly on a routine Vespa ride.
“My eyes opened to the amazing potential the space had and the area had as well,” Schreiner said. “Most people [90 percent] didn’t share in my vision as it was deemed a ‘doomed’ corner ‘where restaurants don't make it.’ But we believed in our concept and in the area.”
And who can blame the cynics? Prior to Pubbelly, a fleeting Japanese lounge called Shiso lived at 1418 20th St. for less than two years. Before Barceloneta started bumping every night at 1400 20th St., there was the short-lived Sea Rock and then the disastrous, Picnic, which received zero stars from The Miami Herald in 2010. Around the block at 1800 Bay Rd., there was Casale, the failed pizzeria attempt by the owners of the long-standing outlier Sardinia. Most recently, the owners of Morgans in Wynwood didn’t have much luck when they retrofitted the former Joe Allen space (now PB Steak) into a chic southern soul foodery last summer. Georgia’s Union closed just three months after it opened.
Now, the proof is in the pudding for the Pubbelly boys. Maybe the secret to their success is actually in the bread pudding, which is like the red thread of the empire. The dessert takes on an entirely new persona at each establishment and is extremely popular with regulars.
At PB Steak, Maria Orantes, the group’s up-and-coming pastry chef, will introduce the Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding ($8), a generous finale topped with scoops of custard, vanilla ice cream, and sprinkled with candied walnuts for a fun mix of creamy and crunchy. Mendin says the 21-year-old phenom also supports him with just about everything in the kitchen.
You’ll find another female superstar behind the restaurant’s inviting 20-foot bar. Miami mixologist Ashley Danella brings her love for the classics to the main stage at PB Steak, where guests will have trouble not trying all of her cocktails on the first visit. Formerly of Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau, Danella is considered more than legit in the cocktail kingdom. She makes a mean Manhattan and even drives a ’64 Cutlass.
Ask for her “Murdered Out Manhattan” (around $12) with an order of the Housemade Bacon Confit ($16). The extra smoky blend of bourbon, rye and scotch is a nice complement to the smokiness of the bacon after it’s cured for two days and cold smoked for six hours. The color of Danella’s stirred cocktail is dark and deep (think Rob Roy), but it won’t burn as the walnut liqueur gives it a smooth finish. You’ll want to have another round as you make your way through Mendin’s pile of delicate pork belly, house fries, mushrooms, and a lightly poached egg.
Lee Brian Schrager, longtime Miami resident and founder of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, is convinced that it’s all about the partners, the teams they build, and the passion they have for their projects. A world-renowned foodie, Schrager is responsible for pinpointing the hottest trends and aggregating the best talent for food lovers to experience the elite of the culinary industry at his festivals.
“They’re very hands-on and that’s the key to success. Every time I go eat at one of their places, they’re always there. Andreas is at the door. Jose says hello. I’m not sure if they have clones,” Schrager said. “I also don’t know anyone that’s managed to open four restaurants that have all been consistently good.”
Schrager remembers when he could head to Mitch’s Steakhouse on Collins Ave. in the ‘70s for a Caesar salad, steak, baked potato and garlic bread for $9.95. He’d go there as much as twice a week sometimes because it was that good and the price was right.
Those days are long gone and Navarro, the group’s designer, surely has better taste in décor.
“We need another steak restaurant in South Beach so long as it’s not a fancy place with expensive sides and overpriced mac and cheese,” Schrager said.
While PB Steak’s prices are not cheap, they’re a bit lower than other steakhouses, especially when it comes to the wine list, and the menu is undeniably more inventive. Guests will be encouraged to give everything a try.
Keep it simple with Mendin’s solid version of a classic Lobster Roll. You’d be hard pressed to find one like this anywhere on the beach. Hearty chunks of Maine Lobster are mixed with a light blend of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, yuzu (instead of lemon) and celery on a butter toasted potato roll. At $8 each, you could easily have a couple at the bar and be on your way.
Or you could go bold with the grilled 14 oz. strip ($32) and grain mustard miso dipping sauce. The steak is carefully broiled with a light coat of sea salt right before it’s sliced and served to the table. “Pimp it Up,” if you please, with the black truffle syrup (MP), which is the ideal accompaniment. The roasted bone marrow ($10) offers a change in texture and is quite remarkable. It literally melts in your mouth because Mendin puts the bones in giant Ziploc bags before dropping them into a controlled water bath where the marrow boils at 150 degrees until it’s soft. This technique ensures that the fat doesn’t drip off and the marrow doesn’t dry out in the oven, a disappointing reality in many kitchens.
“We take cuisines that we love and can execute well and give them our twist. Our locations are warm, unpretentious and make you feel at home,” Schreiner said. “We simply try to treat everyone like family.
PB Steak is slated to open to the public on Thursday, Jan. 10. Dinner will be served Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. – midnight and 5 p.m. – 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Lunch service is expected to begin in the coming months.
Galena Mosovich is the lead writer for cocktail culture for Miami.com and The Miami Herald
Florida Heirloom Tomato Salad
Housemade Bacon Confit
Photo: Galena Mosovich