On my way driving to Joey’s, a new Italian caffe e ristorante in the heart of Wynwood, I realize it may not be obvious to an untrained eye that here, just north of Downtown, lies a blossoming gallery district and the cradle of what is said to become Greater Miami’s artistic and cultural hub. Perhaps even that of the East Coast. Could “El Barrio,” as our Puerto Rican community knows this “Little San Juan” neighborhood, really evolve into an urban epicenter? These sun-faded buildings? With those pricey condos, encroaching from nearly all points of the compass?
As with the genesis of most unlikely treasures, it takes a keen, resolute vision to see beyond this worn facade into the heartbeat of a neighborhood and its potential. Such is the hallmark of the Goldman family, the real estate powerhouse best known for driving the renaissance of South Beach and developing New York’s SOHO into the hipster Mecca it is today. Already years in the making, this particular revival may now be one of the Goldman’s riskiest ventures to date, with the recent economic nose dive. But if there’s any hope of driving awareness and affection for this area to weather the storm, Wynwood has found both a culinary beacon and an auspicious pilot light in Joey’s.
Arriving for lunch, the first person I meet as I walk through the door is Owner Thea Goldman. In my experience, this kind of visibility is a rarity among restaurateurs, and it is immediately apparent that what she and husband Joey Goldman have put together isn’t what you’d expect from a typical Italian restaurant in the States. In addition to the personal service (they take great care to greet all guests and make sure that everyone feels welcome, not only those who come pre-announced or with pomp and circumstance,) Joey’s is a hands-on operation dedicated to serving flawless authentic Italian cuisine. From a twice daily-recreated blackboard menu of specials by northern Italian Chef Ivo Mazzon, to the informed and attentive wait- and bar staff, this flutter of activity and attention to detail exists in an atmosphere that is categorically relaxed and effortless – a respite from the cutting-edge art world that envelops it.
Before lunch (indoors, to be in close proximity to her nucleus of activity and more easily ask questions,) Goldman first shows me the garden patio, an outdoor dining area breezy in this mild weather and lined with bushes of rosemary and potted kumquat trees. She points out that a plus to eating outside is that dishes often include ingredients from the garden, so the fragrance of the plants themselves can actually magnify the experience of the meal.
Sitting down to a glass of the Ruffino Chianti Classico and a tavolozza (artist palettes handmade from New York featuring an assortment of things to nibble on, in my case a very tasty cabra al vino, Tuscan pecorino and speck,) here is the conversation that followed. I am looking forward to my next visit to Joey’s and plan to make a habit of it, like so many others have.
Some things you should know about Wynwood from Thea:
* ART, ART AND MORE ART – There are 80 art galleries and a museum of contemporary art in close proximity to South Beach.
* A GREAT BARGAIN – 2nd Saturdays events are open to the public the second Saturday of every month between 7 and 10pm. See world class contemporary art on display for free in the surrounding galleries.
* KEEP WALKING – The pedestrian nature of the neighborhood makes it ideal to “fare un giro” and find something unexpected.