Most restaurant reviews focus on just one part of the dining experience: the food. But just as important as the food is everything else: branding, interior design, service, music, and overall vibe. An exceptional dining out experience is one where all the senses are engaged, not just the taste buds. Find out which restaurants have the “taste” to meet our standards (and which ones don’t).
Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
miami beach, florida
A visit to Grandma’s house in Miami
Good old-fashioned hospitality at 27
What had deteriorated into a less-than-glamorous stretch of Miami Beach between the W Hotel and The Fontainebleau has been rapidly transforming over the last few years. Shuttered hotels are being reinvented into posh destinations such as Soho Beach House and Edition (formerly Seville). But perhaps the most interesting new development in this hospitality trend is actually not a hotel at all: it’s a hostel. Freehand shatters the perception that hostels are just lodging for the young, frugal, or foreign.
In contrast to its high-end neighbors, the design of Freehand’s accommodations, communal spaces, and restaurant have a DIY aesthetic. (And its prices are even more out of place in Miami Beach with rooms going for as little as $50 per night.)
In order to get a taste of the Freehand experience, we paid a visit to its restaurant, 27, which is located in a 1930s home at the back of the property (on 27th Street, natch). Though 27 has its own entrance, we recommend taking the long route—entering via the main entrance of the hostel and passing through the outdoor bar and pool area—in order to take it all in.
The Freehand lobby is comfortably decorated with an array of patterns, tableaus, knick-knacks, and vintage furniture. It has a relaxed, lived-in vibe that makes the month-old hostel seem like it’s been a low-key hangout for decades.
We continued through the lush, tropical, outdoor courtyard, where a fun crowd of hostel guests lounged with creative cocktails in hand. With three main areas to chose from—the garden area around the bar, poolside, or off to the side near the ping pong table—the variety of seats and chaises provided guests a spot to either relax in a quiet area or gather as a group. 1960s surf music suited the ‘chillax’ scene.
After a tropical drink and some apps at the pool, we made our way over the 27. Dining there feels a little like having dinner at your grandmother’s house—maybe because it is an old house. The space and experience are cozy, comforting, and a little bit nostalgic. Every inch was recreated to present a feeling for the heyday of the area. Much of the building’s original structure remains intact and what was brought in feels authentic to the era.
The menu features a melting pot of flavors that represent Miami—Cuban, South American, Jewish, and Caribbean—in simple, satisfying, and affordable dishes. Dishes such as Bubbie’s Latkes, Florida Middleneck Clams, and Rabo Encendido (Cuban oxtail stew) represent the many cultures of the city. Two stand-outs were Shakshuka—a hearty middle eastern dish in a tomato sauce with peppers, onions and two eggs on top—and Red Snapper with coconut-curry broth and Israeli couscous. Topping it off were desserts Grandma would have served: Oatmeal Apple Crisp and Banana Puddin’.
While we like the overall feel of the Freehand/27 website, our one disappointment was 27’s somewhat uptight brand identity. It seems both incongruous with the Freehand’s identity and overly formal given the property’s casual, eclectic feel.
Though we love Miami’s signature style, Freehand and 27 are casual, accessible respites from the glitz of SOBE. Although they’re both houses converted to restaurants, 27 represents a very different side of Miami than Il Sole in Gianni Versace’s former mansion (see our review).
It’s inspiring to see owners and designers share a unique vision for a property and execute it without a massive budget. The skilled interior designers have created an experience that feels, “un-designed.” Both Freehand and 27 democratize design by making it accessible, while also providing a new vision for hospitality.
If you’re looking to experience another side of Miami, away from the glitz and glamour but still with a healthy dose of design vision, check out 27. Who knows, the next new trend might turn out to be a good ol’ fashioned dinner at Grandma’s.