Things change. It’s the unchanging law of nature. Places you once went to for things like short rib Cheeto tacos come and go, but what remains is the memory of how a dish makes you feel. A meal you remember and that sits with you well after you’ve had it. That’s the case at Shelley’s Miami, a sliver of a fish shack in the former Station 5 space known for the aforementioned tacos and fluffer nutter sundae brownies. That was good. The kind of things you’d expect to be a hit in the heart of South Miami. But Shelley’s, namely catch of the day fish collars doused in sherry and mustard jus? Talk about challenging the gastronomic (status) quo.
This is the kind of place you’ll find yourself looking back on days later, replaying the experience in your mind, and realizing how well thought out it was from start to finish. Maybe because of the unusually refreshing menu that reads like a sort of trip down the culinary rabbit hole. Or the fact that there’s a bottled cocktail called El Demonio. In it: tequila, blackberry, habanero, citrus, and galanga (ginger’s fiery cousin). And that it’s been mixed and likely being poured by co-owner and former Broken Shaker barkeep Brian Griffiths who just so happens to be wearing white pants and a tropical shirt.
As for the executive chef making you break fish necks, that’s Cleophus Hethington. Hethington has worked the kitchens of Alter, Matador Room, Ariete, and Yardbird circa Jeff McInnis era—to name a few . Shelley’s Miami is his first go at holding down his own kitchen, writing a menu from start to finish, and executing consistency—simultaneously. If our visit was any indication of what the future—both at Shelley’s and at Griffith’s and Hethington’s forthcoming downtown concept Over Under—has in store, we’re excited to bite into it.
Dishes like green Strawberry Gazpacho with conch and herbs and fried hen of the wood Mushrooms and Oysters with Old Bay and saffron mornay are delectably whimsical. Mofongo Fritters with cane butter and Roasted Carrots steeped in cashew cream alongside celery root, dates, and drizzled with tarragon verde had everyone at the table wanting more. Even the Airline Chicken, which we were anti-ordering (because, well, chicken), was flawlessly cooked and memorable. Though if you have to choose one main, let it be the day’s catch Fish Collars (we got grouper). And because change is the only constant, Hethington reminds us to not get too attached to anything as the menu is going to be in constant flux till he’s really dialed in on what diners want. Case in point, Swordfish and oxtails is now Wahoo and Oxtails with sun choke and garlic relish.
“We’re taking feedback and adapting,” says Hethington.
In this case feedback means guests expressing concern for high-levels of mercury, so Hethington reworked the original iteration of the dish. “You’re not cooking for yourself, or your ego, you’re cooking for whoever is eating your food.” He’s also added fried Catfish with Grits and tomato gravy and crab and chorizo bucatini on the dinner side, plus all new desserts (think Black Forest Bread Pudding and Vegan Sticky Buns). If you want a Crab Melt, Lobster Roll, Smoked Fish Sandwich though, you’re going to have to hit up Shelley’s for lunch. And yes, $6 Froses are a daily occurrence, as well as totally acceptable at noon.
P.S. If you feel nice, you can buy a 6-pack for the kitchen for $10, or a shot of Jameson for chef (because he won’t drink beer) for $6. Just like the meal, you’ll be unforgettable.