As the food world descended on Miami for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival this weekend, Alberto Cabrera of Miami’s Bread + Butter joined a select group of local chefs taking on one of the city’s most treasured lunch counter specials, the medianoche, at Botran’s Medianoches & Mixology at Wynwood Walls.
This is familiar ground for Cabrera, who has never shied from adding his own twist to the classics at his Coral Gables restaurant, a spot that combines the warmth of a sunlit Cuban cafeteria with the ethos of a gastropub.
“I’ve always been fond of the whole mentality behind the gastropub that uses really good ingredients in a casual setting with refined service. I wanted to bring all those elements together and do something different with our food,” explains Cabrera.
Applying new techniques to traditional Cuban fare, homey dishes like tamal en cazuela are made with locally sourced fresh corn and topped with fried farm eggs, smoked oxtail, and Napa cabbage kimchi; the traditional shoestring fries that top the popular frita china come with Sriracha ketchup; and the humboldt fog flan de queso de cabra arrives in the same repurposed coffee cans you’d find in your grandmother’s refrigerator. They may serve the cinnamon dusted platanos en tentación you remember, but they come wrapped in house made bacon and dripping with five spice syrup.
Although Cabrera worked his way though South Florida’s top flight restaurants, from Robin Haas’s Baleen and Norman Van Aken’s Norman to Sergi Arola’s Spanish avant garde La Broche, the inspiration for Bread + Butter dates back to his experiences growing up in Miami surrounded by a family of great Cuban cooks. While his menu pushes limits, Cabrera always wanted Bread + Butter to be a place where the old guard feels at home.
“I started thinking that it would be cool to do a Cuban cafeteria where [my father] would actually come in the mornings and guide the guys, because he loved cooking, which I got from him, or just hang out at the end of the bar and tell stories, because he was a great storyteller,” said Cabrera.
Secure in his roots, Cabrera opens everything on the menu to experimentation. Recent additions include lamb ribs in a Malta glaze with pickled guavas, chilindrón de chivo served over calabaza gnocchi, and a bread pudding studded with membrillo and served with butterscotch ice cream.
A veteran SOBEWFF chef since the festival's inaugural year, Cabrera has watched it develop alongside the city’s culinary landscape. “It has definitely helped [Miami] become more of a food city. It brings a lot of attention to local talent, brings people from the culinary world into the city, and highlights Miami,” said Cabrera.
What form did Cabrera's medianoche sandwich take at the event on Friday, February 20? One with foie gras and sweet pickles, that's what. For us, it was a new kind of Cuban classic.