When Ember opens in Miami this May, Kilgore will serve lasagna cooked over an open flame, smoked fried chicken, and ravioli in the form of mozzarella sticks.
Brad Kilgore will soon debut the restaurant of his dreams. It’s not his first opening; it’s actually his fourth. But unlike the others, Kilgore has fantasized about this specific concept – where lasagna is roasted over an open flame, and angel food cake is grilled and served with blistered strawberry compote – for more than a decade.
The concept dates back to his days as a young cook, working on the line for chefs like Grant Achatz to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. As Kilgore advanced in his career – leading kitchens, opening restaurants, and piling up awards – so did his idea for what will soon become his latest venture.
“I almost jumped on a location years ago before I worked for Jean-Georges,” Kilgore says. “It’s something that’s been in my head for such a long time. I’ve known the name for years, too. I guess the best way to describe it is food I love to eat. That’s why it’s so special to me.”
Expected to open before the end of May, imagine Ember, located just below Kilgore’s Tokyo-inspired cocktail bar Kaido in the Miami Design District, as a wood-fired American bistro, where the 2016 F&W Best New Chef will flex his culinary know-how by serving unique interpretations of classic dishes. Think beignets stuffed with pimento cheese, roasted cornbread custard, smoked fried chicken, and ravioli in the form of mozzarella sticks.
“Ember and Kaido are incredibly different, but they complement each other,” says Kilgore. “With Ember, you have a neighborhood bistro that offers a little something for everyone. Kaido is a bit darker. There’s definitely a yin and yang going on.”
In addition to Kaido and the soon-to-open Ember, Kilgore runs two other hot Miami restaurants, Alter and Brava by Brad Kilgore. Though Ember will feature the same caliber of fine dining Kilgore devotees are familiar with, food will be served inside a space that's decidedly more casual and approachable.
“Ember reflects my training and how I fell in love with cooking,” Kilgore says. “It’s what I grew up with, but it’s reminiscent of a classic French bistro.”
With 3,200-square-feet of indoor and outdoor dining, the Art Deco-inspired space is bright and inviting. Along with a large main dining room, there’s an intimate six-seat chef’s counter offering a more personalized experience for small groups.
“Alter was my first way of getting out there and really expressing myself as a chef,” Kilgore says. “Ember has a lot of similarities with Alter. Ultimately, I’m trying give diners the same incredible multicourse experience in a more laid-back way. It’s like what we do at Kaido, where we serve 16 courses while blasting hip-hop music in the background.”
Inside, it will be impossible to escape the sultry aroma of smoky wood-fire cooking. The gem of Kilgore’s menu is the “Over the Embers” section, where he’ll feature familiar dishes that, traditionally, aren’t cooked over fire. Take the Fire Roasted Lasagna, where layers of ricotta pasta will be charred over embers and topped with maitake bolognese, gruyère fondue, and fresh basil. There’s also the Blistered Burrata with honeycomb and sea salt, and Roasted Cornbread Custard with bone marrow butter.
“We’re going for a balance between neighborhood bistro and steakhouse,” he says. “There are lots of great cuts coming from the Midwest. I’m really excited about cooking in a Josper oven, too, and having a chef’s counter for people to be interactive and really experience the inner workings of the kitchen.”
As for redefining the classics, look out for the Mozzarella Stick Ravioli with spicy marinara and ricotta, and Kilgore’s favorite: The Escargot Chorizo Cassoulet with chimichurri butter and smoked white bean purée.
“You take escargot and house-ground marinated chorizo and cook them into the shell and bake them gently,” he explains. “What you traditionally have is garlic parsley butter, but seeing as we’re in Miami, we’re making it with chimichurri butter melted over the top and served in a classic escargot plate. It’s got all the elements and respect to the classic dish with our touch on it. As for the ravioli, that’s something I had growing up. It was a special meal we’d eat maybe once or twice a year. At Ember, you’ll eat it like a mozzarella stick and dip it into the spicy marinara sauce.”
Ember emulates a steakhouse with a handful of meats and fish, from a 16-ounce ribeye and a 34-ounce dry-aged porterhouse, to a whole branzino and Kilgore’s smoked fried chicken, which is brined for 24 hours.
“There’s all different sauce choices, including my own BKQ sauce,” he says. “Think of it as a Kansas City-style barbecue sauce with a couple secret South Florida ingredients. We’ll also serve caviar butter and a classic béarnaise.”
Dessert entails more fire-cooked items, ranging from the Grilled Strawberries and Creme, in which grilled angel food cake comes garnished with black pepper crema and roasted strawberry compote, to a tableside branded crème brûlée, and a Rice Krispie Treats-inspired dish served à la mode.
“The Rice Krispie Treats dessert has actually been on my recipe list for almost as long as the concept of opening Ember,” Kilgore says. “You know how the best time to eat it is when it’s in the pan, all warm and gooey? Imagine that, folded with house-made marshmallow, and served in a warm cast iron skillet with dulce de leche ice cream. It’s all coming full circle.”
Ember. 151 NE 41st St., Miami.