A year ago, after a brief hiatus post Tudor House, chef Jamie DeRosa decided to open his own restaurant, Tongue & Cheek. Since opening, DeRosa's whimsical and playful eatery has amassed a great deal of attention and praise for its "seriously good cooking." And DeRosa hopes for even more attention soon. The chef/owner tells us he's looking to expand on T&C's offerings by rolling out breakfast in the near future and, though not in too much detail, makes several mentions of a new location. For the restaurant's one year anniversary, we spoke to DeRosa about reeling in the locals, facing challenges and his buzzy brunch.
This was your first solo venture. How did you decide that this was the time to open Tongue & Cheek?
It kind of goes back to working at Tudor House with Geoffrey Zakarian. We found out that the Dream Hotel brand was going in a different direction, they asked me to stay on—it was right around the same time that my wife and I were having our first child, Isabela. I think we got the news around June or july and we were due to have Isabela in August and I just felt like it was the time to just shut one door behind me with the Tudor House and just concentrate on Amy's last month in the pregnancy and really being home for the first few months with our baby and just take that time to kind of create Tongue & Cheek.
All of the years kind of put together, working with such great people and such great chefs, and traveling to put it all into one concept and then out came Tongue & Cheek, which was always supposed to be casual, friendly, but also have the ability to attract the serious diner and people who are looking for something different than what you can find on Ocean Drive and the tourist traps. So how it came about was just by taking the time. It's like when you are looking for a job when you have a job, it's always more difficult to do more than one thing when you're concentrating every day on Tudor House to really take the time and make sure it's well thought out. It just really came naturally because I had the time and I was able to spend that time at home with my family.
Overall, how was the first year?
It's been excellent. The community's really embraced us as whole. I think that from day one we opened with happy hour every day from 5 to 8 p.m., we really made an effort to concentrate on pricing, we do $4 craft beers, we do the $10 family meal, so each day there's something that we are doing for the community. We do it for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays with free coffees outside from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., very news café circa 1990s. So, it was really important given the location to really try to be part of the fabric of the community. I think that, the awards aside and the notoriety aside and publicity aside, more than anything it was really important for us to try to be part of the local community and I think we've done that. I think people are starting to rely on us to a degree. They come in expecting certain dishes or certain specials or even certain promotions. Some of the things that we do with the guest chefs and the Kitchen Collabs. It's just a fun place and I'm happy to see that over the first year people are really buying into what we're doing; it's just a very rewarding feeling.
What were some of the challenges that you faced this past year?
You know, we opened in the off season, we opened April 15, which is tax day and it was also the Boston bombing that day… I think everything kind of was a perfect storm, it was raining … but in the first year we really learned a lot. It's really cool that we have about 90% of our original staff. I think along the way we've made a lot of mistakes and I think we've learned from those mistakes. It's been a challenge to just stay true to what we set out to do. All we ever wanted to do was just cook honest food and be a part of the community and I think we've achieved that. I think in year two it's more about getting out in front of the restaurant and really positioning the restaurant to really become even more successful with maybe a second location or another venture. But, yeah, everyone has the same first year woes, I think, when you open a restaurant … I think for us it's just about learning what we can do on a daily basis, how do we learn from the mistakes and what can we do to be better.
What, if anything, has changed over the past year?
The day to day changes. We just opened for lunch a few weeks ago. So, as we get more confident in what we can do and trying to do it well, we've added different programing elements along the way whether it was the Kitchen Collabs with guest chefs or a local musician coming in a doing a series of brunch shows with us and I want to open for breakfast maybe after the summer. I think that the Miami Beach area outside of the great little mom and pop Consuelas of Cuban coffee and Cuban food and what makes Miami Miami, I think that we need to have just a good breakfast location.
What do you think has been Tongue & Cheek's biggest success so far?
You know, it's amazing how brunch is so important to people. I mean, I've been a big advocate for brunch, but I would actually prefer working brunch than going to brunch, to be honest with you. A lot of chefs don't like brunch, a lot don't like breakfast. There's, of course, the early mornings and it's a lot of work to make money with brunch because there's such a lower check average, but it's amazing how people in Miami really love brunch. And I think we do it well. We have a large enough space than accommodates really large groups. I think the biggest success outside of the publicity has been just how fantastic our brunch has worked. It's so cool to see everyone enjoying themselves on the weekend. If you come to our Saturday brunch it's so different than our Sunday brunch. It's a different clientele, people tend to drink more on Sundays and stay longer. It's just been a hit and we couldn't be more happy.
What is your focus at the restaurant right now?
It's a new chapter, so this year we're starting to focus more on our ingredients and who we work with, who are our farmers and foragers and fish mongers and really trying to develop a bigger outreach to bring more people in that we haven't worked with before. My goal this year is to really get out in front of the restaurant a little bit and do more for our publicity. I know it seems like we get a lot of publicity, but I really spent the first year turning a lot of things down. I know that doesn't sound like it's true, but we haven't gone to anything outside of a few local events. I'd love to grow and build a network for the restaurant, really create more of an awareness of who we are, what we are and really help promote the restaurant. I think even though we've had great press, I've kind of stayed in the kitchen and the development of the kitchen and the training of the kitchen … we change the menu very aggressively, almost weekly, we change our bar program twice a month, so I've really been hands on and after a year it's really time to allow some of the folks that we work with, both in the front of the house and the back, to have some creativity on their own. Hopefully we can find more projects to work on, maybe another location … really just get out in front of the restaurant.
When you're not at Tongue & Cheek, where do you like to eat in Miami?
Everybody likes to know that huh? You know, I don't have one of those stories where I eat out three or four times a week. I have a family, it's out first year, when I have time off I do like to spend time at home. My wife's a great cook and my daughter is 18 months so she's eating what we eat and it's always fun to cook for her and see her expressions when she's trying new things. But, locally people are doing some amazing things. The Miami market is something special right now. Spending five years in Los Angeles and really enjoying the culture and the community of chefs and the camaraderie and the farmer's markets, it's nice to see Miami starting to build that kind of momentum. For me it's really about going out and visiting my friends and supporting their restaurants. I love what Michael and Jen do at Macchialina, I think they're just special people and so honest in what they do. My wife and I like to sneak away to Pubbelly Sushi every so often, it's kind of our little spot where we can just get in there and sneak up to the counter and have some cool bites. I love what Todd's doing at the taqueria, I think it's so refreshing, it's not centered around one specific style of food and I think that's what makes it fun and clever and they're such a great group of people. I think that those are probably the three places, even though they're on the casual side, those are the places that we like, we enjoy. We don't want to have the fuss and the long seated dinners. If I'm in restaurant for two and a half hours eating a dinner, these days I feel like I'm working. We really just want to go and enjoy ourselves and eat good food and visit out friends and go home and relax.
What's in store for the future? Tell me more about that new location.
I'll say that we have a few concepts that I've come up with both on the side of growing our brand and expanding into other cuisines. It's something that we have to be careful about because we're just a year old and we certainly want to be able to add a value to what we've created. So, we are looking to add some growth to our brand and we're also looking to create some new and exciting things. We'll also continue our Kitchen Collab series that was well received. The last one we did was with Robert Irvine and we're excited to bring in more chefs and have good time cooking together.
· All Coverage of Tongue & Cheek [EMIA]