Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn makes his entrance into sundrenched South Beach with the opening of Sunny’s at the Hall Hotel.
Aloha tacos, with fried avocado, cabbage, pickled red onions, lime, and cilantro crema.
Fans of Top Chef—or food in general—have a hard time resisting the saucy, opinionated, quick-witted redhead who finished fifth on Season 4 and has since made several television and South Beach Wine & Food Festival appearances (winning Burger Bash in 2009). Spike Mendelsohn even had the president stop by his farm-to-table restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, DC, to try the Prez Obama Burger. Mendelsohn’s first South Beach restaurant, Sunny’s, is “a departure from anything I’ve done before,” he says, calling it a “utopia of fun.” Here the semi-Florida native dishes on life after Top Chef, his bad-boy image, and his bright beach shack.
Growing up in St. Petersburg, did you ever come down to Miami?
I grew up in Montreal and Clearwater Beach, and then St. Petersburg, where I went to military school at Admiral Farragut Academy. My parents owned a fine-dining Spanish restaurant, which I grew up in. I would come down to Miami to party a lot.
Why Miami and why now? Miami is a fun place to do business. You see a lot of different chefs putting their take on their Miami restaurants. It was time for me to do something a little different. And the warm weather is nice, too.
The restaurant is named after your grandfather. Was his nickname Sunny? Yeah, and he actually had a house in Fort Lauderdale not too far from Miami Beach.
Can we expect lots of sunny-side-up eggs? Yes, definitely! It’d be his type of place to go eat at—just laid-back fun food.
As an avid traveling surfer, are the concept and menu inspired or influenced by that beach-culture street food? That’s the food that I enjoy the most. I used to label it as street food or plate lunch or beach food, but it’s kind of just inspired by the coasts and the food that I usually love to eat while I’m listening to waves. There’s a dish that we’re doing our take on at Sunny’s called chicken and rice in a bag, and I remember having it in Bali. They had these amazing street-style cones that kind of looked like wax paper, and there was rice at the bottom of them with a little bit of curry and chicken on top, and I remember it being the most delicious thing ever. We’ll also be doing your classic grouper Reuben—with fresh catch we’ll be getting locally—but also lobster rolls and all sorts of fun beach fish-shack fare. And we’ve got a really great juice program that we’re going to apply.
What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you? They don’t look at me as business-savvy or as serious. I think I got this rep of being like a bad-boy chef over the years. I’m a restaurateur and chef and business guy now, and when I was on Top Chef, I was making maybe $300 a week, working crazy hours in New York City, running a French Vietnamese restaurant. I think my whole life has changed in eight years. 1500 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-531- 1251