On the heels of the success of their pop-up Phuc Yea!, self proclaimed "bar wrench, pot stirrer and co-conspirator" Aniece Meinhold, along with chef Cesar Zapata and Alejandro Ortiz, wanted to open a modern twist on the American tavern, rich with ingenuity and charm. Six months later, The Federal Food, Drink and Provisions, recently named Best Neighborhood Restaurant by The Miami New Times, has brought life to a bland strip mall on Biscayne Boulevard by serving up some of Miami's most authentic and comforting food, all with a sense of humor. We recently chatted with Aniece about the opening, the kitchen's best offerings and vegans.
It’s 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, what’s the wait for a table?
8 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night is anywhere between a half hour to an hour, depending on the size of the party.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter?
Gifts or cash?
No, we don't do that kind of stuff. You know, we’re a neighborhood restaurant, so we cap our reservations every half hour in spots, so we can keep tables open for people who live in the area or that know that we are more of a casual place. In an effort to keep up with that neighborhood restaurant feel, we really don't take a lot of reservations to start so more than likely, it’s first come first serve.
What about earlier in the night?
6:30/7 o’clock is pretty open. We have noticed that Miamians are really late diners so 6:30/7 o’clock in the middle of the summer when the sun is still out, means that they’re still out jogging or working out or something like that too.
Tell us about your favorite customers?
My favorite customer would have to be one that comes back. Like I said, we’re such a neighborhood place, so when I get to see those faces that come in over and over and over again, it’s truly a testament to what we’re doing as a restaurant. More and more, as the weeks go by, we see more of those familiar faces. Those are the ones that really put a smile on my face because they believe in what we’re doing, they love what we’re doing, they keep coming back.
It’s really unique to have the opportunity to build a relationship with people as well. In my mind, a guest isn’t just a paying customer, a guest is someone who really comes into literally my four walls, a place where I spend more time than my own home, and enjoys himself/herself there. So I try to make that happen for them.
Who are your VIPs here? Do you guys ever get any celebrities?
We get a lot of VIPs in the sense that they’re prolific in the community, between different owners and art collectors, that kind of stuff. We’re not exactly the place where you’re going to spot a celebrity. Not quite yet, I believe.
What’s the strangest request that you’ve been asked to accommodate?
Besides from vegans coming to the restaurant or anything similar to that, nothing strange or over the top. I think that we’re promoting a pretty unique selection of protein, so if you want to eat some pig ear or tripe, that’s already there. The strange already has a home at The Federal. So we really don’t get those kind of requests, it’s on the other side of the spectrum when people have extreme dietary requirements, that’s when it becomes a little bit more challenging, i.e. vegans.
When was the first time you talked about doing something like the Fed?
The first time we started talking about it was October of last year. The Fed was the most insane restaurant opening of my life. We were fully in the middle of Phuc Yea!, going crazy and then all of a sudden my best friend of years is like ‘let’s open a restaurant, let’s start looking for places’. That was in October of last year; then from October to December scouted for places; found a place in December; signed a lease on December 10th; built out a restaurant in three weeks. January 10th came around and it was Friends and Family. It was insane, it was a whirlwind.
What would you say are the more difficult aspects of working in this restaurant?
There’s nothing really challenging about it. I think that with everything and every hospitality job, it’s hard work. You pulling long hours and you’re managing a lot of personalities. Possibly for any manager, the most difficult part of their job is managing the personalities of their staff. You have every kind of person working in a restaurant from someone that has just come in from another country and is trying to start a life for themselves to a server who has a masters and is going for their second masters. So there are different kinds of people that you need to learn to work with at different levels and what their needs are on a personal and professional basis. And try to offset that with the day to day operations, that is where it becomes tricky.
Guests complain, but that’s just normal. Luckily, we don’t get many of them. But if you didn’t get the guests complaints, you wouldn’t know how to improve things. You wouldn’t learn to grow and develop if you didn’t get complaints. Those are supposed to be difficult. Things just happen, they are part of the natural course of business.
When you’re not at The Fed, where are you eating?
If I’m not at the Federal, I’m either at Sugarcane, Salumeria 104, or Philip Ho.
What’s your favorite thing that Chef Zapata cooks up?
Right now, the barbecue is really rocking my world; the barbecue is ridiculous. I never met a brisket I liked and I think I just fell in love with brisket on Sunday. Our recipe for brisket is sick.
Personally, I like all the fancy stuff that he ends up making, not the items that are more comfort food driven. Like right now, we’re doing a seared foie gras with caramelized banana froth, savory french toast and grape compote. That might seem a little too fancy or elaborate for people who are coming to The Federal to eat, but I think that technically speaking those are the items that allow Cesar’s creativity and his technical skills to come out the most. There’s also an arctic char tartare that I am in love with, because I love raw fish, with a quail egg and some oven dried tomatoes, a little bit of Worcestershire paint on it. Those might be my two favorite dishes right now.