Miami’s Southern comfort succeeds

Posted May 4, 2013


Amid the Cuban bakeries, the colorful ethnic markets and the boutique restaurants that line Lincoln Road, Southern comfort food is alive and well in South Florida.

Miami’s world of glitzy hotels, shimmering shorelines, and vibrant nightlife seems to leave no room for the slow smoked flavors of barbeque and the fresh, homemade dishes which make up Southern cooking, yet Miami’s cityscape has more than enough room for the South.

The definition of Southern comfort food is in the name. Familiar foods which evoke fond memories of family gatherings, holidays and the fuzzy feeling that comes with a full stomach are all core components of comfort food.

The Miami food scene allows for these flavors and memories to be reinterpreted, tweaked, and re-invented time and time again. Swine Southern Table and Bar, Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, and Blue Collar Restaurant all serve up comfort food in varying degrees of pizzazz and style; all while catering to the individuality of the neighborhood each one calls home.

Swine Southern Table and Bar is the latest addition to the array of restaurants which line the trendy and elegant streets in and around Miracle Mile. The restaurant is owned by the same group, 50 Eggs, which opened Yardbird Southern Table and Bar in South Beach. While both restaurants serve up Southern comfort food, the two locations are decidedly different.

Swine’s menu is pork-centric, as could be guessed from its name, and filled with Southern classics all prepared with refined elegance.  The most popular item on the menu is the 14 hour house-smoked brisket served with soft potato bread and a jar of Swine molasses Q sauce. The brisket is soft and the perfect hue of light pink. Also, the sear forms a remarkably firm and delicious crust which goes great with the molasses sauce; this is good considering the brisket tastes a bit dry without it.

The sides, or “fixings”, are delicious and hearty enough to be eaten as a meal on their own.  The mac n’ cheese is made with five cheeses, bacon and topped with an herb crust.  The cheeses are perfectly blended into a creamy sauce which contrasts nicely with the crunchy crust at the top. This fixin’ alone is worth a second, possibly third, visit to the restaurant.

Another familiar item is the cornbread, but it has two surprising ingredients- cheddar and jalapeños. These ingredients turn a staple of comfort food into an interesting and savory experience. The pieces of jalapeños give the cornbread a kick and the pocket of cheddar cheese in the middle adds a surprising, but delicious new level of flavor.

Their dessert menu also features favorites like a warm sticky icky bun. The sticky bun is drenched in maple-toffee syrup, maple butter and then sprinkled with candied bacon. The warm, gooey bun is then topped by “sweet- potato pie” ice cream which has pieces of sweet potato in it.

The elegant take on Southern classics makes Swine, which opened a mere two months ago, an instant hit, especially with the Coral Gables locals. The fresh interpretations of iconic comfort food cater to the trendy, but classy patrons who frequent the boutique shops and restaurants in the area.

The menu is based on the principle of sharing and all menu items are served family style. The décor of the restaurant also feeds off of the neighborhood’s upscale atmosphere. The two-story restaurant oozes gentrified country charm. Strategically placed mirrors reflect rows upon rows of wine bottles, pickled fruit jars and vintage stands of brightly colored fruit.

The service is also in step with the quietly well-to-do attitude of the Gables. Waiters flutter from table to table ensuring that water glasses are never empty, new silverware is promptly brought out, and guests are immediately seated, sometimes even early, with a reservation. The dim lighting, quite murmur of conversation and excellent service ensure a great evening.

While Swine serves up Southern comfort food to the more demure crowd of Coral Gables, its sister restaurant, Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, caters to the glamorous, glitzy and fast-paced lifestyle of South Beach. The only similarities are large portion menus and excellent service .Otherwise, just like the neighborhoods, the restaurants couldn’t be more different.

Yardbird sits on a corner of Lenox Avenue, a bit removed from the hype and buzz of Lincoln Road, but still very vibrant on its own. The staff is upbeat and the patrons are gorgeous, but above all else the place is loud. The entire restaurant reverberates with the sound of conversation, but in a good way.

The restaurant’s menu, as could be guessed by its name, is centered on fried chicken; the epitome of Southern comfort food. After glancing through the menu, guests can see that Southern comfort food has had a makeover to fit the standards of the ever evolving South Beach community.

The most popular entrée and easily their best is the Chicken N’ Watermelon N’ Waffles. The entrée’ features the restaurant’s signature old school fried chicken, chilled spiced watermelon, and cheddar cheese chow chow waffle. The entrée is served with sides of bourbon maple syrup and hot sauce honey.  The fried chicken is easily the best fried chicken in Miami. The meat is juicy, and tender, while the breading, which melts in diners’ mouths, is light, full of flavor and low on grease. The chilled watermelon is tossed in lemon, pepper and a mix of herbs and their big ol’ cheddar waffle is the perfect balance of crispy and fluffy.

Their fixings include Yardbird’s version of mash potatoes, or ‘mash, which is a combination of whipped parsnip, potatoes, celery and roasted garlic. Another popular item on the list are their homemade buttermilk biscuits- which quickly exonerate any memories of overly greasy, or hard biscuits. The biscuits are light, airy and dressed up with sides of homemade strawberry preserves and honey-butter. Dessert, like the rest of the meal, features familiar names with glitzy ingredients. Their peach crisp ice cream sundae comes with peach ice cream, homemade blackberry sauce, and handmade ginger beer marshmallows.

The overall experience at Yardbird is tailored to fit the trendy and vibrant vibe of South Beach. The crowd is loud and ready to be entertained by a novel array of quirky ingredients and culinary twists. A reservation is a must; diners who come as walk-ins will have to wait around a minimum of two hours.  The only downside to eating at a restaurant that is such a prominent part of South Beach is that the sheer volume of guests makes the experience less intimate.

A majority of the tables are positioned a few feet from one another; making a private conversation almost impossible. Also, even though the servers are courteous and attentive- a water glass never goes empty- on a busy night dishes can take almost forty-five minutes to appear. As a form of compensation the wait staff can throw in a free side of biscuits and the manager is known to bring food out personally in case this happens.  Despite all this, the level of culinary excellence which is part of a dining experience at Yard is certainly worth the small obstacles that come with being in the limelight.

Yet, not all good soul food in Miami is found in upscale and trendy neighborhoods. Blue Collar Restaurant, which shares a parking lot with a small motel on Biscayne Boulevard, is a small, unassuming place bursting with modern flavor combinations. The comfort food at Blue Collar is cheaper than that at Swine or Yardbird, but every bit as good. The small dining area, which seats about twenty five people, is tastefully decorated and appeals to a modern and slightly thriftier crowd, but one that’s hungry for flavor and innovation.

The list of appetizers and sides has familiar items like macaroni and cheese, and they even have a section on the menu for grilled vegetables.  The real innovation and modernization  begin during lunch time with the “Big Ragout” sandwich and the grilled cheese sandwich. The “Big Ragout” sandwich features crunchy, crusty bread and pulled pork and veal shoulder all slathered with a parmesan and mozzarella topping.  The combination of veal and pork with the parmesan sauce is different and delicious. Also, the grilled cheese sandwich features a combination of cheddar and Gouda cheeses instead of typical American. An added touch is the fact that the sandwich is served on a Portuguese muffin instead of white bread.

The quirky twists on comfort food classics continue in the dessert menu. Blue collar features the best bread pudding in the city.  The warm and gooey concoction is drenched in a syrupy caramel and then topped with whipped cream laced with cayenne pepper. The spice from the pepper accents the sweet and warm flavors of the bread pudding perfectly; keeping the bread pudding from becoming overly sweet.

The small modern setting and the innovative menu options appeal to the busy streets surrounding Biscayne Boulevard and the well to do businesses in the nearby neighborhoods. The restaurant is also open until two in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays appealing to the younger crowd and the nightlife in the surrounding area.

These three restaurants exhibit the various ways a city like Miami can showcase a cuisine. The ever rising city skyline and bustling beaches have plenty of room for Southern comfort food. Whether it’s dressed up to appeal to the classically elegant crowd in Coral Gables,  glammed up to fit the needs of South Beach, or modernized to feed the masses who want innovative, but familiar dishes Miami has room for Southern fare in all its glorious ways.

  • Yardbird Southern Table and Bar
  • Address: 1600 Lennox Ave., Miami Beach, Fla., 33139
  • Hours: Brunch Saturdays & Sundays 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Lunch Mondays-Fridays 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m., Supper Sundays-Thursdays 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. and Fridays & Saturdays 5:30 p.m.- 12 a.m.
  • Reservations: Yes, and highly recommended
  • Telephone: 305-538-5220
  • Attire: Trendy, dressy casual
  • Price Range: $31-60
  • Swine Southern Table and Bar
  • Address: 2415 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, Fla., 33134
  • Hours: Brunch Saturdays & Sundays 10 a.m.- 4 p.m., Lunch Mondays-Fridays 11:30 a.m.- 4 p.m., Supper Sundays-Thursdays 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m. and Fridays & Saturdays 5:30 p.m.- 12 a.m.
  • Reservations: Yes and recommended
  • Telephone: 786 360 6433
  • Attire: Dressy casual
  • Price Range:$31-$60
  • Blue Collar
  • Address: 6730 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Fla., 33138
  • Hours: Lunch Mondays- Sundays 11:30 a.m.- 3:30 p.m.,  Dinner Sundays-Thursdays 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. and Fridays & Saturdays 6 p.m.- 2 a.m.
  • Reservations: No
  • Telephone: 305 756 0366
  • Attire: Casual
  • Price Range: $10-$30