By Mitchell Nover
When’s the last time you had a hankering for some good, old fashioned South African food? If you’re like me, that answer is never. Well, that is, until I dined at Big Easy Winebar & Grill (701 S Miami Ave, Miami). Adding another random twist is the fact that the Big Easy concept is inspired by Golf-icon Ernie Els. That’s right, the name comes from his nickname — no South African-Creole fusion happening here. Anyway, confusion aside, once you step inside the Brickell City Centre restaurant, you’ll be greeted by warm wood tones, an extremely friendly and helpful staff (more on that later), an unpretentious yet sophisticated vibe, and a culinary experience that is most definitely unique and unlike anything else you’ll find in the current Miami food scene.
Menu highlights: Despite the fact that you most likely don’t know what South African cuisine is, you can be comforted by the fact that the people cooking your food do. To ensure authenticity in the kitchen, the restaurant called on the talents of Executive Chef Maryna Frederiksen, a native South African with more than two decades of experience in the culinary industry, including roles at multiple AAA Five Diamond and James Beard Award-winning dining destinations.
Speaking of the food, South African cuisine is shaped by Dutch, Indian and English cultures, and the country’s multi-ethnic influences most definitely come across in dishes such as the Pork Belly ‘Popsicles’ (braai “bbq” sauce, cowboy candy), Mini Cauliflower Samosas (roasted cauliflower, green chutney), Grilled Nigerian Prawns (garlic butter, peri-peri chili sauce), and Toasted Couscous Risotto (baby shiitake mushrooms, butternut, kale, parmesan-thyme cream).
Standout dish: I love when I can be surprised and totally caught off guard by a dish, and the Durban Bunny Chow did just that. I know, I know. Those three words together are pure gibberish and don’t explain what this dish you’re potentially eating even is. Well, turns out that bunny chow is essentially a kind of bread bowl filled with a curry of either vegetarian beans or some type of meat. But don’t worry, no bunny’s were harmed in the making of this dish. The name “bunny” comes from the corruption of an Indian term referring to merchants, and “Durban” comes from South Africa’s third-largest city, from where the dish has its origins.
In the case of Big Easy, this version brings slow roasted lamb shank served in an artisan bread bowl. A delightful and delicious discovery.
Are we boozing? Considering that South Africa enjoys a stellar reputation for its wines, there’s no doubt that Big Easy prominently features many exceptional vintages. With the leadership of Louis Strydom, a passionate and experienced winemaker devoted to capturing the unique terroir of the region, Big Easy’s beverage program offer hand-selected labels, including multi award-winning blends from Ernie Els’ own vineyards.
Check this place out if you like: Adventure, exploration, and pushing your culinary boundaries. There’s really nothing quite like Big Easy in Miami, and that’s a very good thing. With the arrival of every diverse new concept and cuisine (as opposed to the many cookie cutter joints that seem to come and go ad nauseam), our city’s food scene only continues to grow, evolve, and ultimately get better.
Mitch’s take: I think you can tell by the preceding sections of this review, that I thoroughly enjoyed my Big Easy dining experience. That’s why I want to take the opportunity in this take to call out and thank my server, Sergio. When visiting any restaurant for the first time, a server’s tips and recommendations are highly invaluable. Even more so when you’re taking on a new cuisine for the first time. Sergio deftly and unassumingly guided me through my dinner, surely enhancing anything I would have found if I’d been left to my own devices. Foodies, take note: ask for Sergio when you make your Big Easy reservations. You’ll thank me, and more importantly him, later.