Due to the broad range of Caribbean restaurants around Miami, a lot of Caribbean culinary culture could be experienced while visiting the city. There are well-known Cuban chain restaurants like La Carreta and Versailles Restaurant that are exclusive to the area, as well as lesser known gems selling Trinidadian food like roti and doubles, or Jamaican food like jerk pork. The local beverage culture is also strongly influenced by the West Indies and Latin America. Cafecitos and Cafe con Leches are the locally popular coffee drinks, and craft breweries in Wynwood like J Wakefield and Veza Sur Brewing Company both make beer influenced by tropical drinking culture. With so much Caribbean flavor in Miami, it’s sometimes easy to forget that Florida borders both Alabama and Georgia, two States that are well-known for country-style Southern cooking. Naturally, it is possible to find traditional Southern classics all across northern Florida, but generally not in Miami, and almost certainly not in Miami Beach.
Changing this was the aim of local celebrity chef Richard Hales when he opened Bird and Bone, a Southern-style restaurant at The Confidante; a luxury boutique hotel at Mid-Beach. The restaurant is a collaboration between the hotel and the chef, designed to allow guests to experience quality dining in a unique setting. Hales is a regular face on the Food Network, where he has competed in shows like Guys Grocery Games, Tournament of Champions, and Beat Bobby Flay, Many of his former restaurants have also been featured across several episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, Hales honed his skills in Asia. Many months were spent exploring the region between Indonesia and Japan and he would often work in kitchens for free just to pick up the local culinary traditions and little known methods. Testimony to this training could be seen across Hales’ culinary career as his style could be described as Asian Fusion. Moving from Asian Fusion to Southern-Inspired at Bird and Bone is strangely logical since spicy fried chicken is a favorite across both cultures. Additionally, Richard Hales was born in New Orleans but he grew up in Florida so it’s reasonable to assume that he would shine when it comes to southern cooking.
An invitation to dine at The Confidante meant that I could sample some southern sandwiches while also exploring the hotel’s beautiful Art Deco interior, backyard and beachfront area. The Confidante is part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt; it’s a seaside hotel that takes inspiration from mid-century Miami. The outdoor seating at Bird and Bone makes perfect use of the hotel’s patio area; Cool and constant breeze blows in, and the two heated pools and beach-chic cabanas are just a short distance away. The restaurant is designed to resemble a countryside farmhouse, and the ingredients used are all sourced from small independent farms and organic butchers. The cocktail menu keeps it country by making extensive use of American Whisky. Both the Ginger Peach Sangria and Apple Cider Sangria use moonshine, and the Blackberry Bourbon Iced Tea swaps the white whisky for Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
After a refreshing cocktail by the pool it’s time for a Nashville hot chicken sandwich. The most famous place for this sandwich is also the place where it was invented, a Tennessee culinary institution called Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The story behind this sandwich is that the girlfriend of Thomas Prince III made him fried chicken that was purposely too spicy as a way to teach him a lesson. He ultimately found the spicy fried chicken delicious and opened a restaurant still run by his family today. Nashville hot chicken is typically prepared with a buttermilk marinade before being deep fried, and then slathered in a Cayenne pepper sauce. The chicken is then served atop white bread with pickles on top and coleslaw on the side.
Before opening Bird and Bone, Hales sampled Nashville hot chicken across the south and experimented with different recipes. He settled for using a recipe with less heat than traditionally used, where the chicken is brined and seasoned with cayenne pepper, hot paprika, and ground mustard before being dry aged for three days. After it’s fried, the chicken is drizzled with hot honey, and slathered with comeback sauce so that every bite is interestingly complex. It is dressed with both house-made pickles and a purple cabbage coleslaw for added crunch and complexity. These sweet and tart notes perfectly compliment the mildly spicy chicken tenders that are crunchy on the outside and almost creamy on the inside.
In lieu of the white bread slice traditionally used, Bird and Bone opted for a brioche bun from Zak the Baker, an award-winning and highly praised bakery from Wynwood. Zak the Baker also provides the bread for Bird and Bone’s take on another iconic Southern Sandwich; the Cuban Sandwich. The Cuban Sandwich was born on a Caribbean island, but it came to Florida with Cuban cigar rollers who often ate this dish as a quick lunch. It is a simple swiss cheese, roasted pork, and sweet ham sandwich that is somehow more delicious than it sounds. What started as a humble ham and cheese sandwich made for Cuban workers in Key West in the 1930s is now the official sandwich of Tampa and the unofficial sandwich of the entire State of Florida. Tampa and Miami have a friendly rivalry over which regional variation of the Cuban Sandwich is superior, but a Tampa restaurant has the claim to the oldest recorded recipe.
Chef Hales calls his version a Cuban Grilled Cheese, and he uses pulled pork and ham but skips the salami that’s used in the Tampa take on the sandwich. He uses the mustard, pickles and swiss cheese that could be found across all recipes, but also adds some pickled red onion for additional crunch and character. All of this is put into a soft, sweet bread instead of the crustier Cuban bread that is then buttered and pressed flat. Both sandwiches are served with seasoned, waffle-cut sweet potato fries.
Both the Nashville hot chicken sandwich and Cuban Sandwich are iconic sandwiches of the American south, and sampling variants of them from an iconic chef like Richard Hales was an incredible experience.