With a rodeo, a downtown "Western district," an equestrian-themed McDonald's, and a horse hitching post at the Walmart Supercenter, Davie is known as a country-Western sort of town. With mile upon mile of chain restaurants and sports bars, Davie is not really known as a place one would travel to — by horse or motor vehicle — to find a creative meal.
A group of Miami chefs, who have spent time working in some of the hottest kitchens in the city — Tuyo, Swine Southern Table & Bar, Nemesis, Pubbelly, and more — is attempting to turn that around with Swank Southern Kitchen on University Boulevard. A modern Southern eatery, it is bringing dining trends from Miami and other major cities to Davie.
It all started with Oscar Ferreira, the main investor of Swank and Soi Chinese Kitchen in Miami's Design District, who wanted to take over the space formerly occupied by a friend's business.
"When Oscar decided to take over the location, he drove around the area to see what would fit," said Swank chef Angel Vergara. "There was nothing around the area that was pushing the limits, and it seemed like Davie would be welcoming to Southern-style food. We took the idea and took off with it."
Chefs Angel Vergara of Soi Chinese Kitchen and Michael Galadza are the two who have stayed on from the original four — Matt Hockin and Isramil Almonte have left since the opening of the restaurant in September.
Both are classically trained — Vergara at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and Galadza at the Miami Culinary Institute — and both have spent time working under one of Florida's most respected chefs — and member of the James Beard Foundation's National Advisory Board — Norman Van Aken.
For Vergara and Galadza, the goal at Swank is to create traditional Southern dishes with a modern twist using high-quality ingredients and everything made from scratch in-house. With backgrounds in fine dining, presentation is a big part of the experience.
Chicken and waffles ($16) is one of the most popular dishes. Instead of the conventional fried whole chicken smothered in syrup, Vergara and Galadza use juicy boneless chicken thighs and a homemade marshmallow sage sauce for a dish that's sweet, savory, and slightly earthy. It's served on a wooden board with a side of house-made hot sauce.
Shrimp and grits ($14), served in a small, rectangular cast-iron skillet, are creamy and briny with a hint of smoke from a combination of pan-seared shrimp, smoked tomato Anson Mill grits, house-made bread-and-butter-style green beans, and red pepper vinaigrette. Fresh fried barbecue chips add a nice crunch to the velvety grits.
The 18 Hour pulled pork sliders ($10) are marinated in blood orange mojo for 36 hours and smoked for 18 — hence the name — before being shredded and served between pillowy buns with buttermilk slaw and pickled jalapeños and cucumbers.
The smoker is a big part of the draw here. Galadza, who recently moved up to the area, would spend his days off from Tuyo experimenting with his personal smoker on his back patio, trying out different woods and methods for slowly cooking meats. The men plan to purchase another smoker and increase the wood-fired offerings in the near future.
In addition to more smoked items, Galadza and Vergara are working on incorporating more specials and dishes into the regular menu based on what works for the area and what doesn't. They plan on starting a brunch program sometime in the new year.
Cocktails follow the trendy bent of the menu, with a large selection of small-batch bourbons, craft beers, and a select number of infusions. Again, it's all about the flavors of the South, with cocktails like the caramel apple ($8), composed of apple pie moonshine, caramel moonshine, and caramel cider, a sweet introduction for anyone interested in Prohibition spirits; or the Swank's honey tea ($8), with Jim Beam honey, fresh iced tea, and a splash of lemonade.
It has taken a bit of getting used to for the locals — for instance, many have expected larger, homestyle portions — but the group is set on elevating the dining scene of the suburb.
"Growing up in Miami, I never thought I'd leave," said Galadza. "I drove through Davie and fell in love with it. Here, the locals dictate what we do. I'm glad to be a part of bringing a cool concept to the area; Davie deserves it."