Notes from Miami Beach: Pubbelly and News Cafe

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Pubbelly interior

If your server at Pubbelly tries to tell you that the plates are small, tapas-sized portions suitable for sharing, don’t believe her. Only they’re definitely suitable for sharing, but small? No.

Which is why my companion and I found ourselves with too much to eat on a recent visit to the popular anchor in the Pubbelly group of restaurants. Those include Pubbelly Sushi and Barceloneta, all basically in the same building — sort of like Thornton Park Restaurant Group and its growing brands at the corner of Central Boulevard and Summerlin Avenue.

Contrary to most of the well-known restaurants in Miami Beach, Pubbelly is not on Ocean Drive or even the popular Lincoln Road. It is on the west side of the island, away from the touristy area. But it thrums with locals who flock for the well executed food.

Pubbelly Mofongo

The Mofongo was a favorite, topped with a fatty cube of pork belly and floating in a shoyu sauce.

Pubbelly dumplings

Pork Belly Dumplings (for some reason I was drawn to anything with belly involved) had a nice pan sear but weren’t more extraordinary than the dumplings you’d find in any Asian restaurant.

Pubbelly octopus

The Octopus, on the other hand, was unique, sizable tentacles served with black romesco sauce, little potatoes, and dollops of a piquant sauce. And lest you think I finally ordered something without belly, it also included njuda, a pork spread that often included belly.

Pubbelly cochinillo

For my main course — although any of those would have qualified — I ordered Cochinillo, a roasted suckling pig whose best feature was the crusty crackling.

Pubbelly duck

My companion had the Duck a la Grape, which featured a magret breast with cauliflower, red grapes and rich duck juices. By this time, we were both too stuffed to fully appreciate it.

Pubbelly is a small space with a large open kitchen. Brick walls, subway tiles and unadorned tabletops add an urban flair. Besides overselling us, our server was a bit stand-offish — until it was time to present the check. One thing to note about the service: Although the portions are bigger than small plates, they are delivered to the table as prepared, tapas-like.

The wine list tends to the obscure. There is a Pubbelly Blend, but if it were my restaurant, I’d find a better wine to put my name on. A large selection of beers and several sake-based cocktails are also available. I wasn’t brave enough to try the negroni.

Pubbellyis at 1418 20th St., Miami Beach. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for brunch on Sunday. The phone number is 305-532-7555.

News Cafe eggs

And a quick sad note. A favorite South Beach retreat, News Cafe, seems to have succumbed to the weight of its past success. I should have known when they started cannibalizing sidewalk space beyond their own storefront that they were getting too big for their designer britches. News Cafe has always been one of my breakfast spots when I visit Miami Beach, but this time the service was slow and the food mundane. The Huevos Rancheros, served on hard-fried tortillas, were perhaps the worst I've had. I see no reason to return. It’s always disappointing to have a favorite let you down.