At Oolite, Kris Wessel Takes Florida's Culinary Influences on a Healthful, Delectable Jaunt

Categories: Review, The Critic

Kris Wessel's barbecue shrimp at Oolite.
A half-dozen fat, sweet barbecued shrimp arrive bathed in a fragrant, rust-colored sauce.

One bite reveals that their tingling spice is cut by the rich smack of butter as well as lemon and floral rosemary. The plump crustaceans are perfectly cooked, with crisp exteriors and tender, briny interiors. They come with a few triangles of crumbly roti, an Indian flatbread.
You wouldn't know it, but the dish is gluten-free. Chef Kris Wessel's addictive barbecue sauce, which doesn't contain Worcestershire sauce, is often made with soy. And the roti is prepared with chickpea flour instead of traditional whole wheat.

See also: Oolite's Backyard Mango Cocktail and Wessel's BBQ Shrimp: The Perfect Summer Meal

Kris Wessel
Indeed, nothing at Oolite, Wessel's new place just off Lincoln Road, contains gluten -- including the toothsome cornflour penne pasta encased in a gooey cheese sauce. It's a big bet on a huge space by an established chef in the midst of a rough run. Wessel took over the restaurant's lease from Gigi owner Amir Ben-Zion, who for a short while ran the space as Cooper Avenue.

Its 5,000 square feet hold more than 200 seats. It would be even larger if Wessel hadn't turned half of it into a bar and nightclub. It's only a few steps from tourist-flooded Lincoln Road, but once the outdoor mall's din fades, Oolite feels miles away. Wessel, however, says he's confident his menu -- tropical, healthful, and satisfying -- is a good fit for body-conscious South Beach. He's also hoping to lure private parties after they've spent the day across the street at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The idea for Oolite, named for Miami's porous limestone bedrock, began three years ago after Wessel learned that his then-8-year-old daughter, Anais, was allergic to gluten.

"We went into three months of deconstructing sandwiches, going with gluten-free pastas," he says. "I didn't lose the flavor spectrum, and even cooking for her I started realizing you don't need it in your diet."

The one-page menu, which offers meats, vegetables, and plant-based starches à la carte, started in Wessel's home kitchen, where he practiced making bread with alternative flours and boiling gluten-free pasta. The offerings are rooted in Florida's culinary traditions while celebrating the flavors and cultures that give the region its multicultural vibrancy. Wessel makes ample use of jackfruit, avocados, and mangoes in a lineup that also includes slow-cooked goat, ropa vieja, and rotisserie duck.

Location Info

Oolite Restaurant & Bar

1661 Pennsylvania Ave., Miami Beach, FL

Category: Restaurant

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Barry Bamboo
Barry Bamboo

tha cannaty delivers once again Kris Wessel


Oolite is extraordinary, and the above review is right on point. My wife and I stopped in for dinner on Miami Spice last weekend. Our meals were delicious, and we plan to return. In fact, this weekend we tried another place new to us on Miami Spice. Right in the middle of our meal, my wife stated, "We should have gone to Oolite instead. We'd have enjoyed it so much more than this."

Yes, while the savory dishes are very special treats that most anyone should enjoy, the desserts are very different than most other restaurants and may confuse those looking for cloying sweetness. But those desserts stand on their own.

We're ready to return for more. 

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