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Its sister restaurant, South Street, is set in the same location where Domo Japones and Sra. Martinez previously reigned. Ben-Zion has leased the whitewashed building, which was once the Buena Vista postal office, from Design District developer Craig Robins for ten years.
In July 2012, when James Beard Award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein closed her acclaimed eatery, Sra. Martinez, Ben-Zion planned to replace it with a steak house and burger joint known as Mandy's Drugstore. But then Amaris Jones, the pixie-cut lifestyle manager for celebrities like P. Diddy (and Ben-Zion's old friend), approached him with a different idea. She wanted to open a soul-food eatery and name it after a street in her native Philadelphia. "We had originally planned to say no to Amaris," he explains.
But she insisted that if he tried her food, he too would be convinced. Soon she arrived at his home with containers of fried chicken, short ribs, and shrimp and grits. "Soul food, blues, and R&B," he says. "Amaris pressed on all those buttons, and it just worked.
1661 Pennsylvania Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Category: Coffee Shops
Region: South Beach
South Street, 4000 NE Second Ave., Miami. Call 305-573-5474. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Friday through Saturday 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Love Jones $12
Biscuit basket $10
Southern spinach salad $12
Lobster mac and cheese $20
Mom's free-range fried chicken $24
Crispy skin wild salmon $24
Cooper Avenue, 1661 Pennsylvania Ave., Miami Beach. Call 305-455-4741. Open for breakfast every day at 8 a.m., lunch every day 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner every day 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Porchetta pizza $12
Lobster salad $18
Braised lamb $16
"Amaris is a macher," Ben-Zion explains, seamlessly intertwining Yiddish into his English speech. A macher is someone who makes things happen.
Clad in a floral apron and snug navy-blue Tom's, Jones greets guests like a feminine version of Sirio Maccioni. The restaurant's fare is based on her personal recipes: flaky sweet-potato biscuits, lobster mac and cheese, and crispy skin wild salmon, served alongside a grapefruit-dill sauce and mixed greens. The menu combines soul food with lighter eats like quinoa and kale salads. The new 65-seat eatery boasts a sophisticated setting and targets a mature crowd, aged 30 to 50. On weekends, wait times already exceed an hour.
Both South Street and Cooper Avenue seek permanence. "Our growth was always different than other places, because we are trying to avoid becoming trendy," Ben-Zion says. "Look at BondSt and Bardot. They both graduated the trendy phase and survived."
Part of that involves maintaining a quiet approach when it comes to media. Ben-Zion prefers for his places to speak for themselves.
When questioned about the opening of these two major endeavors at once, he responds coolly. "Coincidence," he says. "No problem."
He remains vague about his next projects but hints at the possibility of developing something new near downtown, Wynwood, or the Biscayne corridor.
Till then, Amir Ben-Zion can be spotted on the corner of Cooper Avenue and South Street, the abstract intersection of a colossal, ambitious brand. It's there that he listens with a fine-tuned ear and waits to discover whether any of his eateries require that he crank up the sound.