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By Brett Graff | November 2, 2011 | Food & Drink
Morgans on the Beach, in the Purdy Avenue space previously occupied by Joe Allen
|TOP: An update on a classic: Morgans’ jumbo lump crab Cobb salad. BOTTOM: Table 5 affords a view of the bar while maintaining a degree of privacy.|
Here in Miami, we are well-accustomed to watching restaurants open and close. But we typically welcome the new and memorialize the old with offhand verbal crumbs such as, “Oh, it’s where Tuscan Steak used to be.” But when Joe Allen Restaurant shut down to make way for Morgans on the Beach, it was definitely cause for pause. After all, to call Joe Allen’s legions of regular patrons “devotees” is an understatement. Publishing magnate Philip Levine, who lunches there daily, pleaded with new owner Barclay Graebner to please keep the La Scala salad on the menu. And the early birds practically unified in protest until the new incarnation agreed to continue serving calf’s liver. “I don’t want to make them angry, so if it pleases them, they can have it,” says Graebner.
What has happened here at 1787 Purdy Avenue is that a rising star of a restaurant (spawned from an original location in Midtown) has replaced an aging icon. But even though much in the kitchen is the same (including the chef, some of the staff, and the pizza ovens) and the regulars continue to occupy their favorite tables and bar stools, Morgans on the Beach is, quite simply, transforming the Miami Beach lunch experience. The attitude here is now more relaxed, the décor brighter, and—despite the few favorite plates that were successfully salvaged by an elite group of regulars—the menu has evolved. And while change is always tough, it’s since taken very little time for the locals to get excited, all things considered.
“I loved Joe Allen because it was the anti-South Beach establishment,” says Vanessa Poskanzer, a vice president at PR firm Harrison & Shriftman (which doesn’t represent the restaurant, but does have an office located on nearby Lincoln Road). “But it was old and stale at times. They were smart to keep some Joe Allen favorites. But the feel is refreshed.”
To start—for better or worse—families are more welcome now, and casual white paper covers the tables, a handy element when business-lunchers find themselves in sudden need of materials on which to jot ideas. Says Graebner, “No one is better than anyone else, and everyone is welcome. People can come in a bathing suit or workout clothes. There’s no dress code.” (Although you might want to look presentable.)
|The cocktail menu features a lemon basil margarita, made with Don Julio tequila, Grand Marnier, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice, and basil.|
The space, however, is certainly dressed up. Walls are coated in a calming lavender, and support pillars are squared and mirrored. Lucite chandeliers above the bar are wavy and modern, serving to light up an ornate custom wine rack. The place still serves liquor (don’t panic) and lists cocktail specials on all menus, including those for breakfast and lunch.
The meals here are comfortable and eclectic, prepared by chef Paul Suriel—who has returned after spending a year at Soyka and has skillfully managed to steer the fare in a direction that is somehow both familiar and fresh. He has added new pizzas and has gone back to basics with sandwich offerings such as pulled pork sliders, gooey mac and cheese, and popcorn shrimp. He steps it up with Prince Edward Island mussels, a jumbo lump crab Cobb salad, and a tuna tartare with avocado. For dessert, the decadence includes buttery Rice Krispies treats and hot beignets.
“It’s the way I think food should look,” says Graebner. “Fresh, big, and good for you… well, maybe not the desserts. But we make everything right here, even our stocks and sauces.”
|Chef Paul Suriel|
Graebner is a mother of five who entered the South Beach restaurant scene nearly 16 years ago, at age 19, with the opening of The Blue Dog Café on Española Way. After selling it in 2002, she launched a dessert and pastry business, delivering fresh-baked goods to the dozens of hotels lining Collins Avenue, but she eventually grew weary of the 1 am wake-up time for morning deliveries. Morgans Midtown followed, located in a renovated 1930s residence with an expansive front porch that’s usually spilling over with patrons. Its new sister location on the Beach has a completely separate menu (Graebner didn’t care to compete with herself), which has her Wynwood loyalists complaining. “They want to know why they can’t get cornbread at the new place,” laughs Graebner.
Situated on Purdy Avenue just off the Venetian Causeway and a stone’s throw from the bay, “the location is off to the side,” says Miami restaurant consultant Mel G., who’s lent a hand on projects ranging from Scala and Miss Yip’s Chinese Café to Wynwood’s forthcoming Bloom under Four Seasons Hotel Miami chef Joey Tuaez. “But assuming the food gives folks a mouthful to talk about, the newer restaurant’s future will surely be bright.” Without the foot traffic of Ocean Drive or Lincoln Road, the place will depend entirely on locals. Art collector and entrepreneur Michelle Rubell says she much prefers to park at Sunset Harbor and stroll those sidewalks than tackle any of the hightraffic tourist destinations on the beach. “It’s a niche area,” she says. “I see it as a place that can grow. And even if it doesn’t, you have a homey restaurant with good service. People will go.” 1787 Purdy Ave., Miami Beach, 305-397-8753
photographs by bill kearney (exterior); greg clark (mussels, portrait)