Highlights: Grandma Llewellyn’s fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, the foolproof wine list boasting sixty domestic wines scripted with a dummies guide to wine comprehension.
Disappointments: The bourbon based cocktails – five sampled and none applauded.
Southern fried soul food seemed like a high-risk venture in the health-crazed, toned community of South Beach.. Yet with a squeeze of Fresh Mexican Lime (John Kunkel) and a dash of Gigi (Chef Jeff McInnis), Yardbird has been an unqualified success since it freed the chicken in October, 2011. Yardbird proves that Miami’s gastronomic tastes are, in a word, indefinable.
Yardbird offers the nostalgic experience of family dining to the transient singles scene of Miami Beach, serving unpretentious home-cooked grub amidst good company in a gourmet farm-to-table contemporary tavern setting. Slip into a cushy leather-studded booth beneath dimly-lit mason jar lamps and exposed wood-beamed ceilings, with flickering twentieth-century rock icons projected on a white brick backdrop. The scene is intimate yet animated with hipster tattooed bartenders, communal butcher-block tables and a classic American blues soundtrack. Southern hospitality radiates from the smiling hostess and the chatty but experienced servers.
Family-style dining (every serving themselves from a variety of plates) should be enforced to allow ample tasting from copious portions of the carefully crafted selections. The strictly seasonal menu reflects Chef McInnis’ many summers on his family’s working Alabama farm. McInnis revives classic dishes with bold flavors, enterprising ingredients, and contrasting textures. From alligator and rabbit Brunswick stew to a meatless vegetable pot pie, it would be hard to find an unappealing selection for even the fussiest foodie.
The charcuterie plate ($14) was a table-pleaser: Robust pork rillette blanketed in Dijon mustard, Virginian cured ham, and house-pickled vegetables were served with morish house crackers. The ‘Lil’ bit of meat loaf’ ($11) was a dainty square of savory slow-braised short rib with piquant sweet tomato relish, balanced with velvety mash, crispy fried okra and drizzled in a full-bodied veal and bourbon reduction. An enterprising collaboration of flavors, however I thought the meat was a tad dry. Mama’s chicken biscuits ($11) lived up to their golden reputation; the succulent meat interior was embraced by a greaseless, crisp crust. The buttermilk biscuits could have used a little extra moisture to realize their full potential.
The Elvis ribeye ($42) was a full-throttle dish consisting of Florida wagyu, sublime slices of beef muscle with a dollop of bone marrow butter, whipped garlic mash and countrified collard greens. The greens were aggressively salted, yet accompanied the dish well. John Kunkel enhances his grandmother’s twenty-seven hour fine fried chicken ($24) with pucker-inducing watermelon soaked in salty citrus and sweet tupelo honey. Savory cheddar waffles alongside the juicy Bell & Evans bird completed this gratifyingly belly-filling dish.
Macaroni and cheese ($8) gleamed in a petite cast-iron pot with torchio noodles cloaked in hearty Grayson cheese and finished with a herb-flecked crust. A faultless rendition. Another diet archenemy side was the house-cut waffle fries dusted with bacon salt ($6), an ideal vehicle to scoop the silky buttermilk dipping sauce.
Satisfied and stuffed, we sipped on bourbon-charged cocktails while waiting for a small hole of hunger to allow for dessert. The wine list is loyal to American wineries with sixty domestic selections. The bar also accommodates fifty-one varieties of bourbon’s extended family and a dedicated bourbon cocktail menu. To my palate, the unique complexity of flavours were overshadowed by the assertiveness of the bourbon in my five cocktail trials (then again, I am more of a vodka aficionado). Our satiated table squeezed in a blueberry cobbler dessert, with a humble sweetness from the favorable ratio of berries modeled on top of a buttery crust.
Dining was done, it was time to recline. In grand American style, it seemed as if we should all retire to a shag-carpeted family room to watch to Big Game on widescreen TV while Ma and Grandma saw to the dishes.
Yardbird is a portal from the adult playground of Miami Beach to a homely haven of childhood family dining. This down-to-earth neighbourhood joint preaches Southern spirit through heart-warming hospitality and soulful food that will convert any effete urbanite.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
1600 Lennox Ave
Miami Beach, Fl 33139
(305) 538 5210