"They Just Didn't Sell:" Richard Hales' Struggle to Keep Blackbrick an Authentic Chinese Eatery

BlackbrickStirfriedTripe.jpg
Courtesy of Richard Hales
Miami, Y U no like stir-fried tripe?
There's little doubt Miami's dining ecosystem has expanded and improved by light years in only a decade or two. Chef-driven concepts and smartly sourced ingredients aren't as pervasive as many would like, but they're here and thriving.

However, gastropubs continue reproducing like rabbits. Miami diners still annoyingly cling to lowest-common-denominator dishes -- salt, fat, and starch bombs -- that people ogle and share on social media.

See also: Blackbrick Named One of Bon Appetit's Top 50 New Restaurants

BlackbrickLambTongueLaobing.jpg
Courtesy of Richard Hales
The lamb's tongue laobing is no more.
These dining tendencies and preferences have reared their ugly head at Blackbrick, Richard Hales' spin on authentic modern Chinese that this week was named one of Bon Appétit's 50 best new restaurants.

Despite the recognition, Hales, since opening his latest midtown spot in late 2013, has been faced with a classic restaurateur's challenge: serve what you want or what the people want.

Prior to opening Blackbrick, Hales promised a nose-to-tail concept. In its early days, there were meaty, gelatinous chilled chicken thighs, jellyfish salad, wok-fried tripe, and a variety of other odds and ends.

"All of those things are off the menu because they just didn't sell," he says.

See also: Blackbrick in Midtown Serves the Chinese Food You've Been Waiting For

Even the lamb's tongue laobing -- a relatively innocuous hot pocket of deliciously gamey ground lamb tongue wrapped in a slightly salty, buttery crust -- is gone.

"I put rock shrimp fried rice on the menu; I can't keep it in stock. It's like it's 1985," Hales says.

Sometimes on Blackbrick's menu or its social media accounts, you'll see three letters next to a dish: "MYW" ("Miami, you win"). Hales will sell you your honey chicken or whatever dumbed-down, Americanized, brown-sauce-slathered chicken trimming you grew up eating and still long for. But Miami's diners ought to be reaching out further, especially if you're making the effort to go to Blackbrick as opposed to your neighborhood takeout spot.

"There's a real issue with what people think is authentic and traditional and what they really want," Hales says. "Those are two different things, because authentic is opening up a whole spectrum of different flavors and tastes."

Clearly, Miami's diners are as critical to the development of the city's dining environment as the chefs themselves. If you don't know where to begin, try veal sweetbreads and crispy pig ears. Think of them as croquetas and French fries.

A handful of Hales' experimental dishes have proved successful. The gong bao rabbit has done well, he says, along with General Tso's alligator and duck necks with a five-spice blend and house-made MSG.

Still, Hales is in a quick pickle, and it's clear that staying in business isn't the only thing he set out to do.

"I don't want the place to turn into every other Chinese restaurant," he says. "I'd rather get rid of it than change it."

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Location Info

Blackbrick

3451 NE 1st Ave., Miami, FL

Category: Restaurant


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32 comments
Jeffrey Adams
Jeffrey Adams

Age old question, years ago I had a restaurant on a barrier island off charleston sc I opened with healthy grilled items, two weeks later after all the touristas kept asking for fried... Damn the arteries! Full speed ahead w fried. I kept the original menu for my specials and locals. Fried outsold grilled and baked seafood by 70% ;(

Anson Suxiang Sun
Anson Suxiang Sun

Keep it real and authentic! You just haven't found the right clientele yet, because they live in Coral Gables but not Midtown!

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rachel324
rachel324

Stop eating animals! Go vegan! :)

Lourdes Donikian
Lourdes Donikian

I think you have to find a happy, but you can't just compromise your food, maybe just carry somen authentic stuff in a lesser scale or as specials...I just have to get to BlackBrick really quick before the whole menu gets ruined.

PinkDucky
PinkDucky

Don't know many people who say, "Wow, I am craving some lamb tongue & pork intestines right about now!" Now some orange chicken or spicy authentic Chinese dishes, yum! You can't cater to the majority of eaters with these exotic dishes no matter what city you are located in America. Plus a hefty price tag doesn't help the cause. Give the people what they want, but still keep a few of the more different dishes, or don't be surprised when you go out of business.

Ernest Seow
Ernest Seow

I don't think Chinese people eat here. That's your first sign of what food they serve.

Nick Mencia
Nick Mencia

if you condescend them, they will come

Alexis C. Walker
Alexis C. Walker

The food doesn't sell because the food is overpriced and disgusting at this restaurant. What an expensive disappointment.

Dave Basora
Dave Basora

Jason Velasquez, SoBe food & wine is one of the most popular because it's one of the most pretentious like virtually everything else here. And I say this as a 26 yr resident. Miami is a beautiful place but youth, beauty and money are worshipped above everything. The favorite past time is star fucking and that's also why SoBe Food & Wine is so popular. Also being scheduled at a time of the year when it's below freezing in much of the country doesn't hurt.

gregory66
gregory66

where all the Bourdain types in Miami? people are so scared to experiment with food..everyone so worried about their caloric intake, these people are BORING.  

misterflorida2000
misterflorida2000

Another thing I want to add, is that a lot of this organ meat is extremely cheap. I strongly feel that one of the motivation of this chef culture, is to take these are extremely cheap bulk organ meats, sear them up and some type of sauce and garnish, and give it a gold plated price that the public expected to pay for. It's not nice to say, but it sounds like a classic scam.  

misterflorida2000
misterflorida2000

There is a reason why these are not common foods. It's because they are not normally desirable. I've gone to restaurants and I've tried cow cheek and tripe, because I want to understand this chef culture stuff. But, I couldn't finish eating the food, I'm sorry but it doesn't work for me. These foods are actually still eaten. When you eat sausage and hot dogs and etc, it's all mixed into that. However, as they are, they are just not showcase cuisine in my opinion.

sporto_sporto
sporto_sporto

Hi Richard! You know what dickhead! YOU WIN, I'm not coming to your shitty fucking restaurant. Fuck you you condescending prick ;)

Jason Steve Velasquez
Jason Steve Velasquez

Fuck you people that are always denegrating us Miamians. Why the fuck is it that we are always found on the negative side of your tongue? If people don't like your food it doesn't mean you have to drag us through the mud. We don't have the most popular food and wine festival of the year for no reason. I hope you haters wither in your hate. We're the city of the future. 305TilIDie

Manny Rodriguez
Manny Rodriguez

They should keep all that weird food on the menu for the freaks that like it. Obviously the masses have spoken on that type food. But to say you won't change...bye bye Blackbrick

Jose Rivero
Jose Rivero

I went here looking for authentic and a spin on Chinese food got it when they first open not as much anymore just like Sumi Yakatori wich had to go to sushi to stay open not bad food but I can get sushi anywhere in town miami needs to learn to eat a little different I hope places like Momi Ramen and Blackbrick stick around Good Luck.

Lourdes Donikian
Lourdes Donikian

I love tongue and tripe, it's a shame that in Miami usually Chinese restaurant need to have to menus, the fake Chinese and the authentic one

Lee Glick
Lee Glick

He can keep his duck neck with 5 spices. Ill go elsewhere for my Honey Garlic Chicken

Joseph Mazon
Joseph Mazon

Actually, Miami is more cosmopolitan, sophisticated and chic than any other US city except for LA and NYC. Nothing else could touch it.

Deathray Jones
Deathray Jones

Miami thinks it's both cosmopolitan and sophisticated but it really isn't.

Alex Shafir
Alex Shafir

So sad! This city has no imagination when it comes to food. .

Giuseppe Vittiglio
Giuseppe Vittiglio

Pretty sure Lamb tongue doesn't cost $40 bucks...but enjoy the chicken fingers.

James G. Camp
James G. Camp

Yeah, I'll have the lamb tongue and charge me $40 for the equivalent of what Gwaltney/Oscar Meyer would grind up into a hot dog. Can i get a side order of lamb scrotum, ears and hoofs ?

Dave Basora
Dave Basora

Which is why Miami will never be anything more than a pretentious food city. My style of cooking admittedly is more comfort and not as health conscious as it should be. But also trying to find local, fresh ingredients here on a regular basis isn't as easy as it s in other cities

Mariamelia Julian
Mariamelia Julian

Bernardo Pimentel II Eddie Gonzalez-Rubio Jessica Marie Romo

Frank Castle
Frank Castle

its good to be different but not that different, lamb tongue? not really appealing

Daniel Fernandez
Daniel Fernandez

Miami sticks to the lowest common denominator everything. This is a known fact.

Sean Drake
Sean Drake

food when we went was really good apart from one dish no one at the table preferred.. the menu was overly complicated, glad to hear they simplified it a bit.

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