Consensus: Hidden by the pool deck of on of Miami’s age-old hotels, Sarsparilla Club waits patiently to welcome you to the intimate beach dining experience you long for. Everything from the thoughtful atmosphere to the comforting menu and well-crafted drinks make you feel like you’ve been invited to a secret society of brilliance. It’s an experience you’ll yearn to go back to, but at the top of our list for Miami Spice.
You walk up to the 1940s facade of The Shelborne Hotel and a striking teal VW van welcomes you to something you already expect to be different than the usual exclusivity of the beach. It’s a place that used to house many of entertainment’s elite in Miami’s heyday but hasn’t lost any of the pizzazz. The Drawing Room bar, once a popular destination for cocktail tricks, swirls around you with wide open spaces for live performances and slinky corners in the library, perfect for a bourbon in the dark. You pass the bar into the pool area and are instantly transported to another coast. Maybe it’s Buzios in the 60s, or somewhere in the west but whatever it is, it sure is tropical.
Pro Tip: Enter through the side door on 18th ST, a shortcut reserved for locals.
The revamped retro hotel is a perfect contrast to the driftwood and marine treasure gardens that await you inside The Sarsparilla Club. The word ‘sarsparilla’ is tied closely to root beer, a catalyst for Chefs Janine Booth and Jeff Mcinnis’ passion for incorporating local roots and vegetables in their farm-to-table menus. We’re not surprised at how much the culinary couple appreciates local flavor, being involved in locales like Yardbird and having a Miami draft beer menu labeled “from the hood”. As the hanging macrame plants and terrariums blend in with deer antlers and bird cages, the open kitchen is obscured behind a curtain of natural decor that promotes a social atmosphere around you.
Then the dim sum cart rolls around and it’s time to do what you came here to do: eat. You don’t know what to get because everything looks so good so you decide to try it all. The Drunken Deviled Eggs, and Heirloom Tomatoes with fresh ricotta are the first to welcome the palette. The Spiced Love Rice and Sweet Corn Grits are succulent sides served on seemingly fragile mix and match china. Every dish has a depth of flavor, where each taste stands out individually but blends together in a perfect choreography of vibrant simplicity. The Local Snapper Ceviche and Charred Octopus are box equally refreshing, stimulating conversation that can only revolve around the food at hand.
Pro Tip: Pair your handmade cocktails to your menu. We suggest the No Money, No Honey for a lighter approach, and the Bourbon Lemonade to give your taste buds a kick.
The Sarsparilla’s Fried Chicken is some of the best we’ve had in a while. Yeah, we agree, fried chicken is always good. But when it’s marinated in green curry, dusted with kaffir lime powder, peppered with coriander, and flourished with toasted coconut, it’s different and familiar simultaneously–a difficult sensation to execute well. The dim sum cart passes around for the third time and you just can’t say no to the Beet & Goat Cheese Dumplings, the Pork Belly Bacon Steamed Buns or the Short Rib Dumplings. It would be a sin. Please stop judging me and the depths of my stomach, thank you. Wait, is that another cart? Sounds like it’s time for dessert.
True to their name, Sarsparilla has a mini Root Bear Float that boasts toffee ice cream as its floatation device. The Banana Cream Cake and Chocolate Peanut Caramel Tart are an effortless balance of fluff and decadence. And just when you think you’ve had enough, the waiter tells you about this new Plum Custard tart you can’t miss and, predictably, you don’t. It may have been a feast, but every item we tried was clearly made with excitement and inspiration in the kitchen. One of the (many) inspiring things about Sarsparilla is that a majority of the culinary staff is comprised of up-and-coming young chefs or students using the restaurant as a launchpad into the gastronomic world.
The chefs themselves were extremely hands-on with the creative side of things, personally scouring flea markets and online marketplaces for the eclectic decorations and bold menu. Look for Rosana, she’s a shining gem in this hidden treasure. The thoughtfulness is as tasteful as the food itself. We suggest you go with a small crew of talkative friends, this is a place you’d want to linger at.