Photo Credit: CHUG’S DINER
In the spring of 2019, acclaimed chef/restaurateur Michael Beltran expanded his restaurant empire with the small, unassuming pop-up Chug’s, located just blocks from his Coconut Grove restaurants, Ariete, Navé and The Taurus. Named after the chef himself – an old high school nickname that stuck – the scrappy little spot was Beltran’s take on an American diner with a Cuban spin, a tribute to both classic American cookery and his rich Cuban heritage. Chef’s “little restaurant that could,” which has been closed for months, finally re-opened its doors on Wednesday, September 8 as a permanent and expanded full-service diner and modern day ventanita.
“It has been an unexpected, wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking journey from where we started with Chug’s to where we have arrived,” says Beltran, who has overseen all aspects of the diner’s demolition, construction and design. “When we first popped up, we didn’t have so much as a plan as a hope for something more permanent. Seeing how Chug’s was welcomed by the community, the same one I call ‘home,’ made it evident that there was a place for Chug’s in Coconut Grove long-term.”
The restaurant now occupies the same space it once did – all 677 square feet of it – but expanded outward to a total of over 4,500-square-feet of indoor-outdoor dining, bar and café space (indoor seating 70; outdoor seating 80). Now, instead of a tiny space no bigger than a pocket-sized grab n’ go, Chug’s boasts an airy, open design scheme with plenty of natural light, a ventanita for a morning, afternoon or late-night pick-me-up, an inside grab n’ go counter, full diner-style counter seating, a café/lounge area and an indoor full-service dining room. Set to open in October, the expansive, newly renovated outdoor courtyard will offer plenty of colorful seating and serve as a sanctuary where guests can dine and imbibe al fresco in a lush, tropical setting.
Like a true diner, Chug’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week with an exclusive selection of breakfast items available ‘til close. Unlike most diners, Chug’s features a full bar with a curated cocktail list on par with what cocktailers have come to expect from any Ariete Hospitality Group concept. Creative conctions crafted by talented cocktail guru and Ariete Hospitality Group Beverage Director Tom Lasher-Walker include Diner Old Fashioned – apple brandy, bourbon, maple, cinnamon, angostura & orange bitters; Guava Gimlet - gin, guava, lime; Miami Vice – pineapple rum, strawberry Campari, coconut vermouth; and Hemingway Margarita – blanco tequila, Pamplemousse, orange, lime, salt.
As it should, a day at Chug’s starts at breakfast. Diners can kick the day off right with a number of selections from the Starters or Breakfast menus. Options include salmon tostada with Cuban bread, whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon, red onions, capers and dill; ricotta toast served with house-made jam or avocado, sunflower seeds, herb salad; quiche - maduros, bacon, caramelized onions, mixed greens; Chug’s famous cast-iron pancake – slow-cooked in clarified butter, served with warm butter on a pool of decadent maple syrup; breakfast sandwich – Taylor ham, fried egg, American cheese and Duke’s Mayo on Cuban bread; and, naturally, La Completa - two-eggs with potatoes a la Jonathan Waxman and tostada, among others. Many of the items above are available all-day. Those “in the know” know all about Beltran’s longtime collaborator, chef Giovanni Fesser, best known as Pastelito Papi. Prior to Chug’s original opening, his incomparable pastelito creations were found only at Ariete and the occasional pop-up. The launch of Chug’s meant the permanent home for Fesser and that continues to be true with Chug’s 2.0. Available to-go until sold out or for enjoyment on site seven days a week, a variety of Pastelito Papi’s precious pastelitos are on offer daily.
Moving into lunch and dinner hours, a plethora of options ranging from Soups, Salads and a variety of Handhelds. Standouts include a wedge salad – baby iceberg lettuce, Beltran’s bacon, Green Goddess dressing, blue cheese and hardboiled eggs; the famous Chug burger; The Frita with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, mojo ketchup, yuca papitas; foie gras peanut butter & jelly buñuelo; pan con bistec and minuta sandwich – snapper, tomato and shaved lettuce. Additional must-trys include media noche pierogi; meatloaf with tamarind ketchup, peas & carrots and whipped mashed potatoes; snapper escabeche – vegetable escabeche, crispy garlic, white rice, garlic confit butter; Pollo a la Milanesa – prosciutto, tomato, parmesan, maduros, pickled green tomato; and masitas –pork belly masitas with fufu de platano and mojo onions. Sides include yuca bites, seasoned fries, harina, white rice & black beans, and mashed potatoes. Overseeing the kitchen, executive chef Monika Dominguez, formerly of Kyu restaurant.
The sweet side of all-things-AHG is corporate pastry chef Devin Braddock. With AHG since 2018, Braddock oversees all aspects of the group’s dessert and bread programs. For Chug’s she is creating a special menu of treats designed as meal-enders as well as an array of sweets, treats, cakes and pies that will also available to go. She is also bringing back some of Chug’s signature desserts, including the decadent arroz con leche and classic flan.
Chug’s is located in the heart of Coconut Grove at 3444 Main Highway. Seven days a week, hours of operation are as follows: breakfast 8AM-5PM; Lunch 11AM-5PM; dinner Sunday-Thursday 5PM-10PM, Friday & Saturday 5PM-11PM. Late-night bar hours: Sunday-Thursday until Midnight, Friday & Saturday until 2AM. Abundant municipal, lot and metered parking is available. Telephone: (786) 353-2940; www.chugsdiner.com. Follow Chug’s on Instagram @chugsdiner.