At Oolite, Kris Wessel Takes Florida's Culinary Influences on a Healthful, Delectable Jaunt
A half-dozen fat, sweet barbecued shrimp arrive bathed in a fragrant, rust-colored sauce.
billwisserphoto.com Kris Wessel's barbecue shrimp at Oolite.
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.
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.
billwisserphoto.com Kris Wessel
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.