Change is scary for most people, but not for The Local Craft Food + Drink’s Phil Bryant. At the Coral Gables gastropub, the chef actively embraces it in his Southern cuisine. What’s on the menu one day will be most likely be gone the other, making each visit to the neighborhood spot a unique one. Case in point: All the items we had during our visit for this story are no longer available.
It doesn’t matter, though, because one thing has remained the same at The Local under Chef Bryant’s care: the quality of the experience.
The executive chef, who we’ve lavished with praise in the past, has proven his resilience by continuing to create masterful dishes through hell and back. In this case, hell was the never-ending construction on Giralda Avenue that essentially killed all foot traffic for the strip’s tenants, including The Local itself. Despite these setbacks, Bryant and his team pressed on with plates that pushed diners to “eat outside the box” and rethink traditional Southern fare.
Hush puppies, pork rinds, Caesar salad and skirt steak are all items that aren’t too hard to find around the city, but at The Local, they’ve been upgraded to version 2.0 — and in some cases, 3.0. Those Hush Puppies you’re used to? Chef Bryant threw in smoked trout roe and schmaltz to give them a little something extra. Nam Prik, a classic Thai dipping sauce, isn’t something you’d expect to see here, but there it was on the menu together with ‘njuda to use on pork rinds and add some nice heat to our meal.
Similarly, The Local’s Caesar Salad featured pickled shrimp, grilled lettuce and fried pickled lemons in a presentation we’ve never encountered before, while the Skirt Steak came with a maitake mushroom, giving the dish an appetizing layer of earthiness that ensured we left nothing on the plate.
Even vegetables like Eggplant and Stewed Green Beans got the star treatment from Chef Bryant, who whipped up caponata and other fun-looking items that were just as pleasing to the palate. Although these dishes are no longer on the menu, don’t be surprised to see them reappear in some shape or form in the future.
Supporting Chef Bryant’s cuisine behind the bar are Barbara Peña and Michael Albuerne, two mixology forces of nature. The duo recently launched a new cocktail menu that builds upon its inventive predecessor: Items like the Voodoo Child — a quirky gin-based libation with blackberry boba — and The Smoking Section (Jim Beam Black ftw) have been swapped for just-as-tasty adult beverages like Just the Clip (Ketel One, cranberry lavender syrup, lemon, grapefruit, Peychaud’s bitters) and Shaolin Shake Down (Bulleit Bourbon, blackberry pepper syrup, lemon, pinot noir) that are as imaginative as the food.
There’s a reason we’re always writing up The Local: It’s that damn good. When you dine out as much as we do, we look for restaurants that consistently challenge themselves and their diners well past their comfort zones. Chef Bryant and his team excel at that, and our palates — and yours — are all the better for it.