I am one of those who likes to let my palate travel the gastronomic globe. If asked, I will always gravitate towards dishes from far away lands, even for breakfast. I am sure I’m not alone in my tastes, especially living in the United States, a country that has stereotypically been down there with the British Isles when it comes to being known for good food. A conversation with any foreigner about American cuisine usually includes a variation on the statement “But Americans don’t really have a cuisine...I mean, you can’t really call hotdogs a cuisine.”
Like the British Isles, however, the United States has really started to take a close look at its own culinary traditions and decided that they’re worth saving, promoting, elevating, and even serving at fine restaurants. This new American cuisine has been, for quite some time, relegated mostly to fine dining establishments and seen by the general public as something of a novelty or an interesting experiment. Even when it was wholeheartedly accepted, this new take on American cuisine rarely trickled down from its haute cuisine heights. While you may have loved that wild boar meatloaf with homemade “ketchup” and other things in quotation marks, it was hardly friendly enough on your wallet to make you turn from the Lipton onion soup-flavored version at your local diner. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere near a diner, something for which Miami is not typically known. This brings us to the newly opened Biscayne Tavern right smack in the middle of downtown Miami. Not only does this eatery bring us a real dineresque taste of Americana, but it has also brought this concept of innovative American food to an accessible, Tuesday night supper kind of level.
Although I mentioned the word “diner” several times, Biscayne Tavern really is, as its name implies, a tavern. Like a tavern—and very much unlike a typical diner—there is liquor and plenty of beer at Biscayne Tavern. While one can sample brews from traditional beer-producing places like Germany, Belgium, or New England, what’s really interesting is to see the selection of local Florida beers like a Native Lager from Ft. Lauderdale ($6) or a Caramel Cream Ale from Boynton Beach ($6). Cocktails are not only tasty, but very interesting, complex, and well-balanced. A smile-inducing and unique B.O.C. ($12) is like a pancake breakfast in a glass containing Crown Royal Maple whiskey, butterscotch, orange liqueur, and a splash of orange juice. The Foggy Mark ($12) is much more serious concoction made emerald green with a generous amount of muddled basil leaves shaken up with Maker's Mark bourbon, simple syrup, a squeeze of lime, and a good measure of black pepper to give it warmth and a nice kick.
Chef Will Biscoe likes to surprise diners with a different pre-dinner “teaser” every night (this is definitely not the place to call it an “amuse bouche”), but pray that you’ve arrived on a night when he’s teasing you with rashers of sticky, crunchy candied bacon, which is enough to make a regular out of any diner. Starters are eclectic and really demonstrate a contemporary view of American cuisine with items like Korean Kalbi Grilled Chicken Wings ($7), which had a tangier, more Southeast Asian flavor to them, but were addictive and impossibly tender, nonetheless. The accompanying honey and rice vinegar-pickled vegetables make one long for Chef Biscoe to implement pickle jars at every table.
Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in tasajo beef ($6) are not quite what one would expect if using the Cuban dried beef dish as a reference. The sugary, meaty dates have just a hint of tanginess from the goat’s milk cheese, and instead of being nestled in a tangle of salted shredded beef, they are enveloped in a crisp sheet of what appears to be prosciutto. While the tasajo in its expected form would have offered an interesting note, these morsels make for an addictive appetizer, and the drizzle of balsamic reduction really brings out the tanginess of the cheese and the sweetness of the dates.
When entrées arrived at the table, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was just being handed a blue plate special. The main courses at Biscayne Tavern are hefty, familiar, and devoid of any unnecessary flourish or garnish. While the restaurant offers an appealing and unique array of salads and lighter courses, entrées are definitely all about meat and potatoes...although quite a lot better than at many traditional diners, and definitely with a few unique and welcome touches. A lumberjack’s portion of moist, tender, and incredibly flavorful Meatloaf ($18) is glazed with a balsamic tomato reduction reminiscent of the ketchup found on mom’s version. A side of Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes will forever make you want to have spuds in no other way, while a Portobello Mushroom Gravy takes the dish from delicious to truly memorable. While not on the regular menu, a daily special of smothered Smoked Beef Brisket ($22) is definitely a reason to come on a Wednesday when it is served. The mammoth portion is perhaps the most tender brisket I have eaten—wonderfully smoky and drenched in a luscious gravy—and while it typically comes with Texas Toast, I do hope Chef Biscoe decides to offer it with his delicious Cheesy Jalapeño Bread here on out like he did when I sampled it.
Desserts aren’t the strongest point here, but if one does have a bit of room after such a satisfyingly rich meal, do take the waiter’s advice when mention of a life-changing Chocolate Chip Cookie is made. Served with a carton of whole milk, the warm cookies straddle the line between chewy and crispy and offer just a hint of salt to counter the sweetness from such a quantity of chocolate chunks that must be illegal somewhere. While I rarely give much credence to such claims—especially when it comes to a cookie—I must admit that Biscayne Tavern’s nostalgic dessert is as pretty close as it comes to life-changing.
Milk and cookies is a perfect endpoint to describe a meal at a restaurant that serves up a bit of American nostalgia with a chef whose inspiration is clearly in American traditions but whose culinary imagination is constantly looking forward to what is becoming the standard in new American cuisine: quality ingredients and embracing new cultures and flavors. It is refreshing to know that in Miami, this type of cuisine is being embraced as part of the American culinary identity and is no longer restricted to high-end dining, but rather becoming something that can be enjoyed by all at any time.
To celebrate its opening last Wednesday, April 17th, Biscayne Tavern is offering all guests a complimentary draft beer with their entrée until April 24th.
Located in B2 Miami Hotel
146 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132