Heritage is currency for Eileen Andrade—it's North Star and a foundation to build on.
Each time Eileen Andrade has opened a new restaurant concept in Miami, she’s returned to the same place for inspiration—to her grandparents, Raul and Amelia Garcia, who emigrated from Cuba and in 1977 opened Islas Canarias, still legendary in Miami as a go-to destination for Cuban comfort food, where favorites like the croquetas are an affectionate nod to the old country. And if Eileen gets her way, diners far beyond the Magic City will be tasting her grandparents' influence soon.
Andrade is a celebrated chef herself, with something of a national profile, having appeared on shows like Chopped, Chow Masters and on the Travel Channel’s Food Paradise. She’s just opened her second restaurant, Amelia’s 1931, in suburban Miami, more than three years after launching her inaugural concept Finka Table & Tap about a mile away. Whenever Andrade develops a new menu, she always finds a way to bring her three favorite cuisines into the equation: Cuban, Peruvian and Korean. Which is why at Amelia’s 1931, for example, the menu greets diners with fare like a Korean-style frita, sweet and spicy tempura shrimp and a Korean BBQ churrasco sandwich. Andrade's latest is a 49-seat, laid-back Cuban diner, where you grab a stool at the counter, where you can hang out with friends and where the music never has that loud party vibe that can overpower the scene. Its name is a tip of the hat to Eileen’s grandmother, Amelia, a woman known for serving cafecitos and for her attentiveness behind the counter at Raul’s restaurants in Cuba and Miami.
“My grandma mainly worked the counters at my grandfather’s restaurants here in Miami,” Eileen explains. “So when I was thinking of this concept, I said, well, I kind of want to do this for my grandma. And I was imagining her making the coffee and things behind the counter and interacting with guests, so I said for sure we need a large counter space to kind of replicate that. A lot of my guests who come now, they’re in their 60s, 70s, and they tell me, oh, your grandma used to make me coffee all the time. I used to sit at the counter, and we’d just chit-chat.”
It’s the same thing Eileen also did with Finka, which she opened in 2014. The name there is a take on “finca,” the Spanish word for farm, in honor of her grandfather who grew up on one.
Heritage is currency for Andrade—it's North Star and a foundation to build on. And Eileen wants to build on it, in a big way. She’s barely got Amelia’s 1931 open, and she’s already thinking about what comes next—eventually, she wants to open versions of her newest restaurant in some of her favorite cities across the U.S. That means an Amelia’s in Los Angeles, in New York and Portland, Ore.
Success, making it, whatever you want to call it—for a certain kind of creative professional, it’s about the balancing act between commercial imperatives and fidelity to one’s self, full stop. Rarer is the kind of person who, in between doing all that, will go out of their way to remind you and anyone who’ll listen that they stand on the shoulders of giants. Eileen is one of those people. The kind of person for whom the way forward requires not-infrequent glance in the rear view mirror, an acknowledgement of who and what helped get them here.
“I learned fundamental and traditional recipes from my parents and grandparents,” she says. “The basis of their cooking style is what I use today. It helps me reinvent and create fun and unique dishes. I want people to experience something they’ve never tried.”
That means at Amelia’s dishes like the General Tsao alligator fried rice; sweet potato tots with chipotle corn and melted mozzarella; selections from the Asian steamed buns portion of the menu, like the fried sweet chili & kaffir lime shrimp buns with peanuts, shisho leaf, and ginger mayo; there are croquetas to try and a full coffee bar, craft beers on tap and a selection of boutique wines.
Right now, she and the team are getting everything structured to the point where they can replicate it elsewhere. Getting all the recipes down to a T, maybe still tweaking the menu a little more. What will satisfy her to the point that she’s ready to take Amelia’s elsewhere is that it’s consistently executing on her formula for a successful venture.
The restaurants she loves to eat at in Miami? “They literally hit the mark on every single thing. I’ve never had bad service. The quality’s always there. It’s super consistent, and they’re very professional but personable in the way they treat the guests. I love hole-in-the-walls that have crappy service. But at the same time, I think it is important to have a balance of everything. Really good food, perfect service and a really nice ambience. Those three things are what make a restaurant successful.”