21. Barton G's Flair for Whimsy
New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue arrives June 19. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's culinary all-stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city a unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.
What Bob Mackie did for Cher, Barton G. Weiss did for South Beach cuisine. To say this famed restaurateur garnishes his dishes is an understatement. Each dish that leaves the kitchen of his eponymous West Avenue hot spot is artfully festooned with over-the-top regalia. Where else can you get ahi tuna served with a full-size samurai sword, or proudly order an appetizer of Duck Dynasty spring rolls? Weiss' Gatsby-esque sense of showmanship and whimsy harks back to his day as one of the most sought-after event planners in town.
Following a successful career planning lavish parties for a coterie of high-end clients, Weiss decided to give his culinary expertise a more permanent home. He opened Barton G. the Restaurant in 2002, followed by Prelude by Barton G. at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in 2009 and Il Sole at the former Versace mansion in 2010. Apart from his successful string of restaurants, Weiss also recently entered the publishing world with his first cookbook, The Big Dish.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing for this culinary creative genius. Last summer, he sustained a serious back injury that forced the workaholic to take a break from the kitchen and focus on his recovery. So what's next for the man whose taste for visually compelling dishes knows no bounds? Next month, Barton G. the Restaurant will set up shop across the country in Los Angeles and show America's showbiz mecca exactly how it's done.
Weiss didn't always know he had a preternatural gift for delighting customers with multisensory feasts. In his early days, he entertained fans and onlookers as a professional figure skater and costume designer. From his time entrancing audiences on the ice, he picked up a performer's sense of timing, a skill he would later develop as a caterer and restaurant owner.
In His Own Words
"I'm my own worst critic -- I come to the restaurant as if I were a guest. It needed a redo, and we did this in less than a week. We converted the entire restaurant and created a brand-new menu. Our concept is still culinary theater, which chefs now are taking seriously, whereas before they thought it was too gimmicky," he told Eater last year. "The vehicles that the food comes out in are changing constantly. We don't have a set menu for a season or anything like that; we revamp based on what's working and what's not. It's American cuisine with a twist. It's still whimsical, fun, and I make people smile. At the end of the day, that's it.
"I try to go places I haven't been to get inspired. It's about the way you think and about opening people's minds to think out of the box. It's about service -- they way you present, the timing, everything. It becomes entertainment. Who doesn't want to have fun? People don't want to leave. The whole thing is, why not? I have no boundaries, no limits. You can never have too much fun. I think that over time, we keep changing, and that's the beauty of it... There's no reason why I can't defy all laws of gravity, and there's no reason why you have to eat on a white plate."
Let your voice be heard by voting in our Readers' Poll. Visit readerschoice.miaminewtimes.com by June 4. Then check out the 27th-annual Best of Miami issue, available online and in print Thursday, June 19, to see if your favorites won.