By Kerri Adams, Foodable Contributor
Miami, like most big cities, is made up of many different neighborhoods with an array of culinary delights. Since August 2013, Foodable Labs has been tracking the top restaurants in the area each month by pulling consumer social data from the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI). The “Miami Top 25 Restaurants” ranking features restaurants that diners praise the most on social media over the span of a given month. But some of these restaurants are not actually in Miami. They are a bit north of the action, yet are still standing their ground against the best of the best restaurants in Miami.
Below, we take a look at these not-so-Miami gems and see what their formula is for success:
Bourbon Steak: Creating a Special Experience for Each Guest
Fine-dining American steakhouse Bourbon Steak is a Foodable Top 25 veteran, and has landed in the coveted No. 1 spot several times. Located 15 minutes from South Beach in the snowbird haven of Aventura, this Michael Mina restaurant is managed by two industry veterans, Executive Chef Gabriel Fenton, who directs the back of house, and Anibal Macias, the general manager. The team collaborates to achieve a singular goal: make the customer feel special.
“All we talk about in our lineups and meetings with the staff is how to make sure we go the extra mile for guests,” says Macias.
This is Macias’ seventh Michael Mina restaurant, so it’s safe to say he understands what diners want. He also recognizes the importance of consistently training restaurant staff. The staff is regularly educated with seminars to strengthen service techniques, wine and menu selections. It’s an ongoing training process.
This level of service has become an expectation for the restaurant’s guests. Like most South Florida restaurants, there is an on- and off-peak season, but Bourbon Steak has a large group of loyal local diners.
“We are a very busy restaurant,” says Macias. “On any given night, we know probably a third of the clientele. We know what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.”
With the help of OpenTable, waiters are able to keep track of a diner’s favorite drink, food temperature preference, and other details.
Although service is an important ingredient for a fine-dine restaurant’s success, the menu also needs to be first-rate. Diners don’t just visit Bourbon Steak because the staff makes them feel special; they’re there to eat. Bourbon Steak’s menu doesn’t change frequently, and loyal regulars love to see their favorites remain on the menu. But that doesn’t mean Chef Gabe doesn’t have fun experimenting with seasonal ingredients. “I have been here for seven years and you think that since the menu doesn’t change that often that it would be very boring to be in this place for that long,” says the chef. “But I change stuff so often that there is plenty of room for adventure and then there’s always the staples.”
Not to mention, there are always two or three steak options not on the menu that he gets to be creative with. So what is it about the food that keeps diners coming back for more? “The simple flavors and the complex techniques that make it what it is,” Chef Gabe says.
Although Bourbon Steak repeatedly appears on the Miami Top 25 list, its local culinary scene differs drastically from Miami. An advantage for the restaurant is that there isn’t much of a foodie scene in Aventura. Sure, there are a ton of restaurant chain options, especially with one of the most popular malls in the country in the small city, but diners often have to travel elsewhere for fine-dining options. With limited competition and its convenient location in the Turnberry Isle Resort, the restaurant doesn’t suffer from many empty tables.
Canyon: A Small Independent With Big Taste
Another restaurant that frequents the Miami Top 25 is Canyon Restaurant. This “oasis of inspired Southwestern fusion” is located about a half hour north of Miami in Fort Lauderdale. Canyon, with an intimate space that seats 65, has been around for 21 years.
“We have a unique venue, we try to stay consistent in our products, our service, and our ambiance. We change to the times,” says Chris Wilber, executive chef and co-owner at Canyon.
Similar to Bourbon Steak, Canyon’s customers are primarily local regulars who all expect to see their favorite items remain on the menu. With that being said, Canyon’s menu changes only two to three times a year. “We have so many staples,” says Wilber. “People have been coming here since ’95 and will say ‘Oh no, you took it off the menu!’ if we make changes.”
Wilber has always loved Southwestern style cuisine and saw an area that was lacking in it. “We do our own thing, it’s not for everybody,” he says. “I don’t try to mainstream it. I just like to do what I like to do and foodies appreciate that.” The menu is short and sweet with a selection of small plates, large plates and sides. Even though the menu is filled with staples like tuna tartare and the guajillo chili braised pork tamale, dessert options change daily.
So, why not Miami?
“Fort Lauderdale was a lot different 21 years ago. Miami is a little more European, there’s more travel. Fort Lauderdale is more local. We have strong summers here because we are established,” says Wilber. Included in those changes over the past 20 years, Fort Lauderdale has become much more populated with restaurants, and the competition has become more fierce. “There are too many restaurants and not enough people,” he adds.
Nonetheless, Canyon continues to be a favorite amongst local diners. The restaurant delivers a flavorful culinary experience that diners can taste without having to travel to the southwest region of the U.S.
Casa D’Angelo: Perfect Italian Pairings in South Florida
Casa D’Angelo Ristorante is an authentic Southern Italian restaurant created by the award-winning chef Angelo Elia. The renowned chef is no amateur to the industry and has quite the following in South Florida — so much so that it has led him to expand the brand. The original Casa D’Angelo in Fort Lauderdale is joined by two other locations not far away — in Boca Raton and at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Besides the fine-dining concept, Chef Angelo has also created a more casual type of restaurant, D’Angelo Pizza, Wine Bar and Tapas, which has four locations all in the South Florida area.
How has Chef Angelo found such success with Casa D’Angelo’s flagship restaurant? Like all great Italian places, the wine menu is as important as the food menu.
“Food and wine together is the main thing in the restaurant business. If you can combine food and great wine, you have a successful restaurant,” he told Foodable in a “Table 42” episode.
With 18,000 bottles of wine, the restaurant is more than happy to help diners find the best wine option to pair with their meal.
The restaurant’s elaborate food menu features Southern Italian classics such as Penne Con Vodka and Angelo’s special lasagna. So what’s the secret sauce to creating a killer menu? “The secret is to strive to provide the best ingredients every single day,” he says. The dishes are simple, each with limited ingredients. But to quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
So there you have it. Miami is not the only South Florida city bringing the heat in the culinary scene. Just a bit north of the Magic City are restaurants creating quite the social buzz. As seen by these not-so-Miami culinary gems above, these restaurants don’t need to be in the 305 area code to be a top restaurant in the area.