The south is alive and well in the most unassuming of places – Miami, Florida (and no, I’m not talking South Beach). I’m talking fried chicken so good it could make your granny feel threatened, biscuits that will knock your socks off and bourbon of course. Lots and lots of bourbon. Who knew you could be so far south of the Mason Dixon Line and still get authentic southern food. Well, at least at Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, one of Miami’s latest restaurant hot spots, you sure can.
Over the holiday, I spent almost 2 wonderful weeks basking in the sun of Miami, visiting family. While flipping through an issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine, I spotted a little blurb on one of the cocktails featured at Yardbird Southern Table, in Miami Beach. Something about it sparked my curiosity and I immediately looked the restaurant up. I’ll admit, I don’t always judge a restaurant by its menu, but often times I find it can be a pretty accurate indicator. I feasted my eyes on the menu and was instantly hooked when I saw items like fried chicken and waffles, blackberry bourbon lemonade, and biscuits with tupelo honey butter. It was a tough decision but we went so far as to cancel our reservation at Michael’s Genuine so we could try it, curious to see if it would live up to its hype.
It did. The restaurant’s decor was an inviting combination of southern comfort and trendy, with suspended candlelit ball jars for lighting, curvaceous booths with chalkboard painted backsides boasting witty quotes, like “never trust a skinny pastry chef,” and a partially exposed kitchen. Classic slides of 1960s-70s Americana, with Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, The Allman Brothers, Elvis and Yardbird’s signature mascot – the rooster, all played against a whitewashed brick wall near our table, providing nostalgic dinner conversation (well at least for the older members in company).
The bar is a bourbon aficionado’s dream, loaded with an arsenal of bourbons, over 50 different kinds to be exact, including house infused chocolate, pecan and bacon bourbons, as well as the ever elusive Pappy Van Winkle (which my boyfriend was lusting after). Yardbird’s edgy mixologist Josh Holiday has a collection of innovative bourbon based cocktails (it only seems fitting), such as the “Smoked Pear,” which consists of smoked pear puree, Benchmark bourbon, lemon juice, maple bitters, sparkling white wine and a smoked almond rim. My mom ordered this cocktail, only she substituted gin for the bourbon but the smoky, floral cocktail was unlike anything I’ve ever had. I ordered the blackberry bourbon lemonade which I loved. Another drink on the menu that piqued my interest was the cleverly named “The Pork Chop,” which had citrus juice, apple cider, Benchmark bourbon, dijon mustard and fresh thyme.
The thing about Yardbird is, you better bring your appetite because it’s best approached family style – ordering several menu items to share and the food just kept on comin’. This is my kinda deal because my eyes are often more voracious than my appetite and I always find the task of narrowing my options down to one or two dishes quite daunting.
First our hot and fluffy buttermilk biscuits arrived, coddled in a white and red striped kitchen towel, with their companions – house-made tupelo honey butter and preserves by their side. We loved them so much we ordered more at the end of our meal.
Before the biscuits could fully be devoured, our side of corn arrived – grilled corn on the cob with fried hominy and cornbread crumbles. The corn was addictive and the crunchy hominy kernels gave the dish a nice texture. Next came the sweet tea-brined southern ribs with bbq, southern slaw and pickled chiles. This was the only dish that failed to win me over, though my mom was enamored with it. I found the ribs to be rather dry and the sauce too overpowering but was too happy with everything else to be bothered by it.
A charming little Staub crock of macaroni and cheese came forward next. Rich and creamy, the macaroni left me craving more and selfishly not wanting to share and it disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived.
…Then came the chicken, the star of the show, a dish that made the restaurant worthy of its name. A gorgeous platter of auburn, crispy fried chicken sat before us, daring us not to attack it with primitive force and complete disregard for civil-mannered behavior. Smartly accompanied by watermelon with fresh mint and buttermilk waffles with spicy tupelo honey for dipping, the chicken was enjoyed to the highest degree. I know it’s a bold statement but I think this may be the best fried chicken I’ve had. The 27 hour recipe yielded the tenderest of birds, juicy and crisp, with a flavorful crust that clung stubbornly to the bird, rather than flaking off. It should seriously be a mandatory dish for anyone who steps forth in the restaurant.
Our grand finale was a cleverly executed deconstructed banana pudding that defied all preconceived notions of what banana pudding is or should be and for that, I am eternally grateful. The dessert was presented to us in a stout mason jar, filled with luscious vanilla bean banana scented custard and topped with a billowy cloud of whipped cream. Walnut shortbread cookie sticks were arranged inside the jar and a generous dollop of bruleed banana and walnut praline sat next to it and oh my God, I wished I could have taken home 10 of those mason jars. I’m definitely inspired to make my own version now. Look out Magnolia Bakery.
So, if after reading this, you don’t immediately want to jump on a plane and head to Miami just so you can eat at Yardbird…I don’t know what. And if you’re southern, don’t be skeptical because this southerner just approved it. Great. Now I want banana pudding.