Blue Collar chef/owner and comfort food maven Danny Serfer has teamed up with first time restaurateur and long-time food blogger (main-and only- man at Miami Restaurant Rankings) to open Mignonette, an Old Florida meets New Orleans-style oyster bar in Edgewater. Initially intended to be a smaller production next door to Blue Collar, Mignonette will now be a standalone restaurant offering, among other things, a variety of cooked and raw oyster options as well as, a Serfer and Roman favorite, prime rib. Eater spoke to the duo about how it all began, what we can expect at Mignonette, working together and much more. Here are their thoughts:
First of all, how did you guys meet?
Daniel Serfer: When I was living in New York, I would actually look at miamirankings.com all the time when I was up there. And I didn't know that it was just one guy's opinion because it sounded like it was pretty legitimate, like there was an algorithm behind it and voters and things like that. So I was like, I'd really like to go back home and open up a restaurant and be part of this ranking and when I got down here, it turns out we had a mutual acquaintance and he kind of linked us up. Then, I still thought that the rankings was like a real, professional thing and I invited Ryan to our friends and family dinner at Blue Collar and he rejected me. So, we weren't really friendly at all. Then a couple of years ago during National Burger Month he sent some obnoxious tweet about not being included in it because we had included other bloggers. And then I was going to say something mean back, but instead I didn't —oddly enough— I said something nice back. And then he came in and we hit it off really well, he ended up being the best man at my wedding and he's a godfather to my child and here we are opening up a restaurant.
Ryan Roman: Except that it wasn't an obnoxious tweet. I'm sure it was just me being sarcastic and he must have read it wrong.
DS: It was after a night of service and I'm always kind of wound up after that.
When and how did the concept for Mignonette come together?
RR: We started talking about this in January of last year, 2013. Over a bowl of ramen at Momi we started to talk about whether there was a way to do something sort of really close to Blue Collar in terms of proximity and provide people with an opportunity to kind of hang out while they're waiting, whether it's brunch or dinner service when there sometimes can be a line out here. So that's really what the original idea was, to do something really close by in the neighborhood. And from there we were working on a particular space that just didn't pan out and we started to broaden our search and found the space that we're in now, which is a sort of interesting, architecturally cool space with some history and a lot of character. So, it kind of grew from the original idea, which was an oyster bar, very, very simple, scaled down oyster bar next to Blue Collar into a standalone restaurant that's an oyster bar, but with a lot more.
Tell me more about the design.
RR: We've described it before as sort of Old Florida meets New Orleans in terms of design and I think that's sort of the sensibility. We're going to have some copper lanterns, some cool use of some vintage wallpapers. Some of it's a little bit of a work in progress right now, so I don't want to commit to too much until we are sure it will turn out like that. But we've got tufted leather banquettes with a tan leather, the chairs are actually these really, really cool vintage school chairs from Barcelona, they're really neat, so we're excited about those. And we're using Carrara marble for the bar and tables so it's sort of a mix of different materials, but we think it's all going to come together in that New Orleans meets Old Florida sort of way.
How big is the space?
DD: Like 1,600. There's two different dining rooms and a bar area.
Ryan, how do you think your experience with MPR is going to affect the way you manage Mignonette?
RR: I mean I think we all come with different experience. I'll be the first to admit that my experience hasn't been from sort of the side of the inside of the restaurant, I come to it from the experience of the guest. You know, I tend to be, hopefully not unfairly, opinionated about things, but I have eaten out a lot in Miami and have seen a lot of places and I want to try to bring some of the sensibilities that I really enjoy as a diner to Mignonette. At the end of the day, I love Blue Collar, and I think Danny and I think alike, so it was just sort of a natural fit. I don't think it's a situation where I'm coming in with ideas that really differ dramatically from the way Danny likes to run a restaurant.
DD: It's nice to have someone part of the team that doesn't necessarily come from restaurants because they give such a different perspective. They add a lot in terms of making the kitchen and the front of the house team push ourselves farther. We're in it every day and we know what we like and what works for us, but then as someone that has such a strong influence and voice, that's from the other end, I think is tremendously valuable. Everyone that works in the restaurant, when they go out, lots of times I think we don't just let ourselves go and be a guest at a restaurant, we think about it from where we work and make comparisons and that kind of stuff, so I think having Ryan's ability to be on the other side is very valuable. Plus, he has actually helped me come up with a bunch of dishes at Blue Collar that have been successful and I trust his palate.
What's it like working with each other and collaborating?
DD: Ryan has a crazy idea and I think of everything that's involved in creating that and I'm like, "no. no way, that's way too difficult, it's not going to work, it's impossible" and then it kind of plants a seed of something I really would like to do and then I'm bugging myself and we figure out a way to make it happen. It's kind of like he's pushing me, I think, to do things I might not ordinarily do.
RR: To build on that a little bit, I come into it from the diner's perspective. I don't think about food costs, I'm starting to think a little bit differently now that I'm getting into the environment more and learning more, so when I think of something it's not really about "is it practical? How many times do you have to bend down in the kitchen to get stuff out of your station to create this dish?" Some of the things that Danny and the cooks think about, it's not how I come to a dish. So, it's like this to me would be a good combination or built off of something I've seen elsewhere or that elevates something that Danny is already doing and then he sort of racks his brain … I think we both can be passionate about things we care about, so it's pretty fun to go back and forth and try to bounce ideas off each other, I think we both enjoy doing that.
DS: It's nice to have someone else … Sometimes if I come up with a dish on a first draft, there's a lot of my own pride involved and I'm like, "oh, this is really great," and I let Ryan try it and he'll be like, "this isn't great, this is like a mediocre first draft," and that's valuable. It's hard to get that sometimes from other people, so to have that honesty come at me is frustrating, but also refreshing and helpful to the process of getting to the final dish.
What are some of the favorite menu items you've come up with so far?
DS: For me, the two cooked oyster preparations, I really like. The Oysters Bienville and the Oysters Rockefeller and the Rockefeller's not like a creamy disgusting mess, which I think a lot of times you see; it's a more tempered version I think. And the Bienville is something you don't really see outside of Louisiana; it's like an oyster that's covered with a Bechamel that has shrimp in it and Brandy and bacon and shallots, then you warm up the whole thing and you get almost like a baked oyster chowder inside of its shell. I love raw oysters too, but like, you know, it's great, but it's just us opening it up; like we sourced something very well. But the cooked oyster dish … those are my favorite things on the menu.
RR: I'm obsessed with raw oysters so for me I think that was the impetus for the idea. I think originally we talked about an oyster bar and showcasing that, so I think we are really going to go deep on variety and try to bring some great stuff in as seasonally available, really do our homework of what's out there, what's new and what may not have been in Miami in the past and see what we can do to bring here. I really think at the end of the day we want to showcase the oysters whether they're cooked or raw. Hopefully, bring in some guest shuckers in the future, do some really cool stuff as an oyster bar. That's what I'm excited about. On a side note, I think we're going to do some really stellar prime rib, it's really kind of different from the seafood bend of the place, but we wanted to have something for the non-seafood eaters and we're really excited about because Danny and I both love prime rib, it's just something we are really into.
Oyster bars seem super trendy throughout the country. Why do you think oysters are so popular now?
RR: I think oysters are the wine of food. Each one is very dependent on its geography, so I think that in the same way that people get into wine you can get really into oysters. And I don't know if that's what's contributing to the popularity of it in other cities… I think they tend to be kind of new restaurants that are well designed and fresh and clean and doing sort of interesting stuff, so maybe it's a coincidence in that regard that they have to be oyster bars. I'm not sure. But I think there's something really interesting about oysters and as people become more familiar they just want to learn more and more about them.
DS: I think people are more into talking about where their particular ingredients come from and what kind of farm and things like that, so I think oysters give people a really good opportunity to do that and I think guests are into knowing about that kind of stuff like where particular things are coming from. The oyster allows you to do that very easily and very specifically. Besides oysters you see, obviously down here in South Florida, ceviche is popular and crudo bars, so I just think that raw seafood is more popular.
· All Coverage of Mignonette [EMIA]