Unless you're a pretty hardcore genealogist of Miami's culinary family trees, you probably don't recognize the name Matt Hinckley. But if you've been a regular at Michael's Genuine for a while, you would know Matt on sight: for a couple years he was a regular fixture there, working the wood-burning oven as sous chef, then moved over to help open Harry's Pizzeria.
Hinckley is now the head chef at The Hoxton, which is the first of what are slated to be three related venues in the Axis building in Brickell. While the recently opened Hoxton puts together a beach house feel and New England seafood hut menu with a bar and occasional live music, next in line is Box Park, which will be a more food-centric farm-to-table venture. When we asked Hinckley to do a Cobaya dinner with us, the menu he created embodied a few themes which I anticipate will also be a focus of Box Park: whole animal utilization; local products; and "alternative" proteins - alligator, rabbit and duck were well represented at our dinner, along with the omnipresent pig.
(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Hinckley flickr set).
Each of those themes was emphasized from the very start of our dinner with a series of passed appetizers served to our group in the Hoxton's upstairs loft area. Fried alligator was served with a subtly spicy salsa negra; Chef Hinckley assured everyone it "tastes just like dinosaur." A silky, rich duck egg quiche was made even heartier with a lacing of 26-month aged Beemster XO cheese and then topped for good measure with duck confit that had been cured for 45 days. Perhaps best of all were toasts topped with a shmear of a creamy rabbit liver mousse, a dab of tangerine jam and a sprinkle of fresh tarragon: this was exceptional, one of the most memorable bites of the evening.
While the appetizers circulated, the Hoxton's bar turned out Bacon Old Fashioneds for the group, with bacon-infused Bulleit Bourbon, bitters, maple sugar and a flamed orange peel.
As everyone made their way to the tables, butcher blocks laden with house-made charcuterie did the same. My lousy, cluttered mixed light photo doesn't do it justice, because this was some of the best charcuterie I've had in Miami aside from DB Bistro. And some great variety too: a lovely rabbit terrine; chewy, nicely spiced venison biltong; tender, fatty duck breast "ham;" intensely spicy and smoky tasso; and some lusciously fatty pork rillons (blessedly served at room temperature so the fat was wavering just between solid and liquid).
These came with a panoply of accompaniments. The butcher block carried a bowl of house-made mustard and a sweetish prune mostarda. A bowl of pickled vegetables included skinny, gnarled carrots, tender oyster mushrooms, and some fiercely spiced wing beans (an item I'd never seen before Chef Hinckley gave us a small preview in advance of the dinner). But my favorite may have been the fresh peanuts boiled in a jerk-spiced liquid, the nuts soft and creamy and infused with subtle heat. A bowl of house-baked breads included a few different varieties which made a welcome vehicle for a generous ramekin of a delicious softened herb butter. We begged for more bread to spare ourselves the embarrassment of scooping the butter with our fingers.
I'll confess I was somewhat dubious - I may have yawned - when I saw a salad as one of the courses for the dinner in a preview menu. I was wrong: this was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. A great mix of bitter local greens - endive, purple cress, dandelion greens, fresh herbs - offered up a variety of textures and flavors. Pickled chiles provided some pop, while a perfectly balanced cider vinaigrette pulled everything together. Yes, crispy cubes of pork belly were a welcome crowning garnish - but for me they weren't even the highlight.
Turnips get something of a bad rap, I think. I like their earthy blandness, their slightly squeaky starchiness. And I though Hinckley's preparation of them here was great: braised in cider, studded with shards of crispy crabapple wood smoked pork jowl, and plated with a fistful of fresh arugula and a generous shmear of juniper berry aioli.
For a final savory course, we got most of the pig that we hadn't already seen: a grilled chop, slices of grilled andouille sausage, and a puck of "crispy pig head," crusted on the outside and all gooey and unctuous within, all paired with a wedge of grilled cabbage and a subtle apple butter. The pork chop was one of the few misses of the evening: beautiful grill marks, but a bit dry and tough inside. I would have happily traded mine for another round of the crispy pig head.
Opinions on dessert at our table were mixed: I really enjoyed the "Ten Fidy" Imperial Stout ice cream, paired with big crumbles of pig fat cookies, tangerine segments, candied buddha's hand and citrus zests. Others at our table found the bitterness of the beer-infused ice cream overwhelming. It perhaps could have used a touch more sweetness to balance the bitter and bring out some of the stout's more chocolaty notes, but personally, not having much of a sweet tooth, I enjoyed it as is, and enjoyed the interplay of the citrus against the bittersweet ice cream.
You will not see much that resembles our dinner at the Hoxton, where the menu is more of the New England seafood shack vernacular. But I anticipate you'll see something at least a bit like it at the upcoming Box Park, which Chef Hinckley and the rest of the team are working on getting opened. If that's right, it's something to look forward to.
Many thanks to Chef Hinckley and all of his crew at the Hoxton, including all the friendly FOH staff who took such good care of us. And as always, thanks to our guinea pigs for participating in this experiment - this kind of stuff isn't possible without your support, for which we're always grateful.
1111 S.W. 1st Ave. Miami FL