Chef Michelle Bernstein of CENA by Michy is captivated by the development of Wynwood, Miami’s booming arts district.
With thanks to Art Basel and the community-building efforts of developers like the late Tony Goldman, what was once a blighted warehouse district just north of downtown Miami has experienced a cultural renaissance in recent years. “One of the most impactful art scenes in the world has flourished in Wynwood, and we got to see it all happen,” says Michelle, whose connection to Miami’s creative awakening runs deep as the official caterer for Art Basel. “Wynwood is part of the greatest transition I’ve seen in this city. The growth of the area has given way to great food and great people that want to support it.” Wynwood’s now-legendary collection of street-art murals and galleries has indeed helped create demand for the funky retail and restaurant landscape that’s bubbling up in the neighborhood these days. Here, Michelle breaks down a few places that are currently tripping her radar.
You can’t talk about Wynwood without first talking about the Wynwood Walls. Even if you haven’t visited the Walls, you’ve probably seen them—thanks to social platforms like Instagram, the ever-rotating outdoor murals from artists like How&Nosm and Shepard Fairey may be some of the most widely documented public artworks in history. The murals were originally the brainchild of Tony Goldman, a visionary real estate developer whose work in reviving areas like Wynwood and South Beach is an inspiration for Michelle. “My husband and I take our son Zachary to see the Walls every month,” says the chef, who is trying to build a flower installation inspired by the artist Fafi at home. “The art is incredible and the people watching is never-ending. It’s a place we love and where our son can roam free and explore.” Wynwood Walls: 2520 NW 2nd Ave, Miami; 305-531-4411; thewynwoodwalls.com
It must have been an adjustment for Brad Kilgore, when he set up shop in industrial Wynwood after working as executive chef at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s luxe J&G Grill at the St. Regis Hotel. But the young cook really responded to the area’s progressive energy, serving food that feels thoughtful and personal while still engaging the flavors and heritage of Miami. “Brad laid low for a long time, and when he got his dream restaurant he really let his hair down,” says Michelle. “He’s producing food that is whimsical and creative, without leaning on ingredients like truffles, caviar and foie gras.” Kilgore’s cassoulet revision, made with local mahimahi, is a great example of that ingenuity at work. Alter: 223 NW 23rd Street, Miami; 305-573-5996; altermiami.com
The Salty Donut
Max Santiago worked with Michelle as a pastry chef before striking out on his own at this cultish donut shop. “I have never in my life worked with a pastry chef who knows more techniques than Max. He is a crazy genius,” says Michelle, who will line up with the rest of the crowds to score flavors like guava and cheese, or one of the excellent gluten-free varieties. “Max uses hazelnut flour to make his gluten-free donut and it just melts in your mouth. That’s a testament to the kind of chef he is: Hazelnut flour costs a fortune to make, but he’s giving people something they didn’t even know they wanted, and they’re going crazy for it.” For now, the Salty Donut operates as a weekends-only pop-up, but a Wynwood brick-and-mortar is forthcoming. The Salty Donut: 29 NW 24th St, Miami; 305-925-8126; saltydonut.com
Plant Food & Wine
Bernstein used to follow the work of chef Matthew Kenney back when she was still cooking in New York in the 90s, so she was excited to hear the pioneer of plant-based diets was bringing his wellness gospel to Wynwood. “Whenever I could afford it, I used to go and eat at the bar of his NYC restaurant, Pure Food & Wine,” she says. The brand-new Miami spot is actually an extension of Kenney’s raw cooking school, Matthew Kenney Culinary. So if you like what you taste at dinner, you can take a deeper dive into topics like the fundamentals of fermentation, tree-nut “cheeses” and cacao. Plant Food + Wine: 105 NE 24, Miami; 305-814-5365; matthewkenneycuisine.com/hospitality/plantfoodandwinemiami