When the Pubbelly boys open restaurants, they call them concepts. Their strategies, though, are not about location. It's not décor. Or cuisine. Or even target crowd.
The concept, rather, is Pubbelly.
The word describes not food or ambience, but brand. And PB Steak — the latest South Beach restaurant to bear the insignia of Miami's fastest-growing restaurant empire — is its most recent poster child.
Since 2010, José Mendín, Andreas Schreiner, and Sergio Navarro — known as the Pubbelly boys — have opened six thriving restaurants in South Florida. Their monolith now sprawls from South Beach's Sunset Harbour to Alton Road to South Miami. At first, what seems most impressive about these men is their age. All are 35 or younger. But this an oversimplification. Age is not what is most remarkable about these bacon boys. Mendín, Schreiner, and Navarro do more than run dining spots. In just three years, the team has branded a sui generis style of restaurant.
To view a slideshow of PB Steak, click here.
The Pubbelly locales have good music, well-curated beer and wine lists, and menus centered on sharing and small plates. There are clocks on the wall that display time zones in Madrid, Rome, Barcelona, and elsewhere. There are chalkboard menus. There are whimsical desserts. There are myriad dishes prepared with copious amounts of pork belly.
At Macchialina on Alton Road, the team partnered with former Scarpetta chef Michael Pirolo to produce a peerless Italian restaurant. The motto is Federico Fellini's "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." Beyond the original Pubbelly, there is also Barceloneta and Pubbelly Sushi, where the adage is Bruce Lee's "If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of." At PB Steak, the mantra by author Fran Lebowitz is "My favorite animal is steak."
The Pubbelly kingdom dabbles in the cuisines of Italy, Spain, Japan, and other countries. The six restaurants, though, share more than cuisine, menus, and ornamentation. The Pubbelly concept bespeaks buoyancy, urbanity, and fun. It's an intangible energy that exudes success.
Their most recent debut, PB Steak, opened in January in the Sunset Harbour space previously occupied by Georgia's Union, Morgan's Restaurant, and, before that, Joe Allen. The steak house rounds out what is now the boys' dining cluster in South Beach. It's within just a block or two of Barceloneta, Pubbelly (the first brand bearer), and Pubbelly Sushi.
Mendín, who was the executive chef at Pubbelly, runs the kitchen here. The concept is the same as at the other joints: small plates, fusion cuisine, and ingredient-centered fare. But like all triumphant steak houses, PB Steak offers more than slabs of dry-aged meat, baked potatoes, and mac 'n' cheese. It also proffers well-executed seafood dishes and pristine selections from a raw bar. The divergent options make for an enjoyable dinner that balances the decadence of a 26-ounce porterhouse with the vibrancy of a Kumamoto oyster.
The bill of fare also comprises tiny sandwiches and small bites. They include a mini lobster roll that pairs potato bread, slathered in clarified butter, with a chilled lobster salad. The salad features chunks of Maine lobster meat doused in brilliant bursts of citrus from yuzu juice and lemon zest. There's also a yellowtail ceviche taco that comes piled high with fresh fish, avocado, shredded bib lettuce, and julienned radishes.
Among all of PB Steak's inventions between bread, though, the most superb is the steak tartare slider. Raw sirloin and tenderloin meat is finely minced, drizzled in black truffle oil, and mixed with parsley and Parmesan cream. The tartare is placed in a soft potato roll that is smothered in house-made green mustard containing capers and chives. It is finished with thin strips of fried potatoes. In PB Steak's sliders, hamburger meets tartare meets steak frites. They are an excellent marriage of all three.
The steak house's French onion soup dumplings are even better than the sliders. Similar to the fabled dish at New York's Stanton Social, the dumplings, filled with braised short rib, are served in a traditional cast-iron escargot pan with six dimples. A rich liquid, flavored with caramelized onions, soy sauce, and red wine, surrounds the dumplings. Melted, bubbling Gruyère cheese crowns the platter, and tiny golden croutons are sprinkled on top.
Mendín is equally skilled at lavishness and fresh simplicity. In his Florida heirloom tomato salad, an ivory sphere of domestic burrata cheese is dusted with auburn flecks of dry miso. The cheese surrounds segments of scarlet tomatoes, as well as thick cubes of pink watermelon and emerald Thai basil leaves. It is dressed in a wonderful vinaigrette made with shallots and basil amazu, a Japanese-style sweet-and-sour sauce that blends white soy, mirin, rice wine vinegar, and basil-infused lemon juice. At lunch, there is a simple butter lettuce salad with radishes and green beans. The greens are tossed in a bland, aioli-based dressing. Its creamy consistency lacks the vibrancy of Mendín's other dishes.
It's likely those who venture into PB Steak are looking for steak. The restaurant encourages sharing. (And by no means should an individual down a 20-ounce cowgirl steak in one sitting, anyway.) Meats are sourced from Halpern's 1855 Black Angus cuts, which are prized for their marbling and 21-day-minimum dry-aging process. PB Steak offers filet mignon, strip loin, Kansas City steak, porterhouses, cowgirl steaks, skirt steaks, and butcher steaks. Dry-aged rib eye for $3 an ounce is also available at times.
Steaks are first charred on a gas grill, which burns and blazes with hickory wood. They are finished in the broiler, heated to about 1,200 degrees. The resulting flesh features a coal-black crust and succulent interior. On one visit, the rib eye — paired with an excessively dense, bland shiso béarnaise — lacked seasoning. On another evening, the butcher steak — coupled with an earthy, potent black truffle soy sauce — oozed with meat juices and the delectable scarlet remnants of blood. That butcher cut, the most affordable steak on the menu, was impeccable.
For dessert, there is chocolate soufflé, apple pie, and an item oddly named texture de fruit. Twenty-one-year-old pastry chef Maria Orantes — who worked under Michelle Bernstein at Michy's and Crumb on Parchment — pipes a raspberry sponge onto a platter and studs the foam-like fuchsia mass with fresh berries, spun sugar, and lychee sorbet. But the dish emits a crackling sound as it approaches the table. The popping grows louder in the mouth. Nostalgia glides in; Orantes finished the dessert with a childhood classic: Pop Rocks. Much like the Pubbelly restaurants, this treat is not only a good time but also a well-constructed triumph.
Three bacon boys run six restaurants. What sets their brand apart, though, is that all six locations could also easily succeed on their own.