What’s the next move for a small restaurant in a Little Haiti strip mall after earning a Michelin star?
For the owners of Boia De, it’s opening a new restaurant — and sticking close to home.
Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer, who started their big Miami culinary adventure with the taco truck La Pollita in the Design District, have teamed up with chef and partner Jeff Maxfield to create the jauntily-named Walrus Rodeo. The restaurant, which lies a mere 25 yards away from Boia De in the same unassuming strip mall, features Italian-inspired cuisine, Meyer says, with an emphasis on the same sort of playfulness that made Boia De a hit from the moment it opened in 2019.
The location, Meyer says, was a no-brainer.
“We heard the old owners were trying to move out, and at the time that was happening we were understaffed and so busy we couldn’t imagine doing anything that wasn’t within walking distance,” he says.
There were other advantages, too, like the structural conveniences that come with a one-story building, he says. Plus there’s unlimited free parking for deliveries, staff and guests. The space is slightly bigger than Boia De, which has 24 seats. Walrus Rodeo will seat 32 at tables and nine at the wine bar.
At the time, Maxfield, who has overseen Toscana Divino, Ironside Pizza and LTD Café and with Chef Brad Kilgore, was looking for a space, too. He had a few concepts in mind, but wanted to find the space first. When Giangrandi and Meyer contacted him, the timing and the setting seemed perfect. Then they came up with the idea of a restaurant based around a wood-fire oven, and Walrus Rodeo — a name they love for its ambiguity and mischievousness — was born.
When you think wood-fire oven, the mind tends to wander into the realm of pizza, but don’t be fooled: this is not a pizza joint. Walrus Rodeo has two pizzas on the menu — one involves boquerones (anchovies), melted shallots, oregano and maple brown butter — but all the cooked dishes come out of the wood-fire oven.
“It’s our main cooking vessel, the focal point,” says Maxfield. “Everything hot comes out of the oven. The food focuses around the fire. Lots of people use wood fire cooking, but we love the idea of the single flame and having everything go back to where food started before it got so big.”
Forged in that fire is a lamb ragu lasagna topped with fermented mustard green stems; it’s a dish that has a different flavor profile than traditional Italian lasagna, Maxfield says. There’s also a potato gnocchi dish with leeks and black truffles, which the oven serves up with a “roastiness,” he says. There’s also a jerk-spiced quail, a nod to the neighborhood that has been a welcoming home to Boia De. There are also plant-based dishes, like one of Maxfield’s favorites, the carrot tartare, which highlights carrot in some form on every aspect of the dish. Maxfield doesn’t want to give away all its secrets but says the presentation is key.
“We allow the Instagrammable moment to disappear before your eyes,” he says. “It’s just about not taking things so seriously.”
There’s also a turnip salad with radishes and fresh ricotta on the menu. Like many of the menu’s elements, the turnips come from a local farmer, Meyer says. The bread for the breadcrumbs comes from a bakery two blocks away, while the coffee is also roasted in the neighborhood.
Walrus Rodeo opens at a time when new restaurants are popping up in Miami seemingly every other day. Meyer says that competition is not something he wants to think too much about.
“If you try and follow the trends, you’re already too late,” he says. “We just do what we do as well as we know how to do it. That’s what we did at Boia De, and that’s what we’re doing with Walrus. It’s no holier-than-thou mentality, we’re just going to roll with the punches, evolve and adjust over time as people respond. There’s a genuine quality that comes with that rather than just following the trends.”
“We’re really proud of the Michelin recognition, but when we opened, there was no Michelin guide in Miami. We just wanted to do something good.”
That feeling of accomplishment comes right down to the building of the space, which was designed by Paula Lemme, who created the look for Boia De. All three partners actually worked on building it, Maxfield says, even his parents, making the concept a real labor of love.
“We hired a few people to do bigger jobs, but we built this restaurant ourselves,” he says. “It’s really our heart and soul.”
Where: 5143 NE Second Ave., Miami
Open: 6-11 p.m. Thursday-Monday