While working in the kitchen of since-closed midtown Miami restaurant Gigi more than a decade ago, chef Jeff McInnis was asked by a server to go out and meet a guest who wanted to tell him the short rib meatloaf she’d ordered was the best thing she had ever eaten.
McInnis, who’d developed the recipe for the dish fairly recently, turned down the invitation. He had too many tickets to get through and a long night of work ahead of him.
Intent on meeting the meatloaf man, the guest went to the nightclub that was located next to the Asian-bistro diner and returned in the early morning hours. Same table, same chair, same server, same order — followed by the same request for a meet-and-greet with McInnis about his meatloaf. It got the same answer.
“Thirty minutes later, the guest is leaving and I see her walking towards the door. She’s this gorgeous, beautiful woman and the waitress says, ‘Hey, asshole. That’s the girl you keep blowing off,”‘ McInnis tells InsideHook. “So I run to the door and I stop her. I’m like, ‘Look, I’m so sorry. I just opened this restaurant. I’m in over my head today. I apologize. I heard you’ve been in here twice.’ It turned out she was in culinary school and she had just moved to town from Australia. She wanted to learn the recipe, so I asked her to come in and work with me the next day. She kept coming back and wound up working for me for two years, and it was all because of meatloaf. That woman was my wife. She’s my partner now and we have three babies and eight restaurants together.”
McInnis and Janine Booth, who’ve both been nominated for multiple James Beard Foundation awards, still serve that recipe at their Southern-style restaurant Root & Bone in Miami, Indianapolis and New York. McInnis, who serves the meatloaf along with creamy mashed potatoes, asparagus, veal demi-glace and heirloom tomato jam, describes the first time he made it in the kitchen at Gigi.
“We braised short ribs and we shredded it up. Then we caramelized onions and folded them in with the shredded meat,” he says. “Then we put it in a pan, compressed it overnight and chilled it in the cooler until the meat kind of set and got firm. We let it set for a full day. After flipping it out, we cut it into bricks and seared it on extremely high heat in a cast-iron pan. It burnt and caramelizes the outside, but left the middle with this nice, soupy, tender, soft meat. It was just this crispy brick and was obviously very far from the ground beef [meatloaf] that you might have seen. It was a lot of trial and error trying to get that recipe just right. You take a classic recipe, look at it as a whole and then try to find a better way to do it that’s original.”
In Miami real estate, it’s location, location, location. In Miami meatloaf, it’s technique, technique, technique.
“It’s what you do with it and how you treat it and what you use to get to that place. You don’t have to use a million ingredients if you have a good quality short rib and you treat it right and take your time with it,” McInnis says. “It takes a lot of time. Technique and time. I think it still pays respect to classic meatloaf because it’s using similar ingredients but completely different techniques. The flavors and the mouthfeel and the textures are very, very different. Meatloaf is a classic at most casual Southern restaurants, but I don’t know if I’ve seen a whole lot of upscale, fine dining restaurants doing a version of it like ours. But it’s definitely a staple for us.”
From Miami with love, here’s how to make Root & Bone’s love-at-first-bite meatloaf.
Root & Bone’s Braised Short Rib Meatloaf
4 pounds boneless short ribs (5 pounds bone-in short ribs)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons
4 cups julienned onions
2 quarts chicken or veal stock
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil and caramelize the onions in a large skillet over low heat until they are completely golden, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Sear the ribs in batches on all sides. Add the stock and caramelized onions, cover, and braise in the oven until ribs are very tender, approximately 5 to 6 hours. Remove the pot from the oven and let the ribs cool in the juices.
3. When cool enough to handle, transfer the ribs to a cutting board. Strain the braising liquid, setting the onions aside, and reduce the liquid by half over medium heat.
4. Remove the bones from the ribs (if there are bones), and shred the meat, including any fat that remains. Place the meat in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the braising liquid and the reserved onions to the meat and toss to blend well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Pack the mixture into an 8 x 8-inch pan, top with parchment, and press another pan on top bottom-side down. Compress the top pan with 4 or 5 large cans. Set it all on a baking sheet to collect any juices. Refrigerate overnight or for up to 48 hours for best results.
5. Run a knife around the edge of the meatloaf pan and heat the bottom briefly (15 to 20 seconds) over the stove to release the meat. Turn the pan upside-down to release the loaf. Slice it into 2 x 2-inch squares.
6. For each serving, heat a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Sear each meatloaf square on both sides and transfer them to a 350°F oven for 5 to 10 minutes to heat through.
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