Home » FOOD AND DINING » Champion of Wynwood

Champion of Wynwood

R House celebrates three years (and counting!) of food, drink, art, and community

R House

It was only a few years ago that Miami’s Wynwood District was considered the city’s ugly neighborhood to the north—a tag-ridden, spotted swath of real estate few wanted anything to do with. But as with any city hot on development, these are the neighborhoods that become gentrified, eventually blossoming into destinations that become the talk of the city, the state, the nation.

And like any of its analogous neighborhoods across the country, Wynwood needed champions—pioneers ready to shoulder the risk of starting a business in less-than-ideal environs. As history now proudly proclaims, one of those champions was Rocco Carulli.

Carulli is as affable a chef as they come, punctuating conversation with laughter and smiling at his own (occasional) misfortunes. But while Carulli’s decision to launch R House {2727 NW 2 Avenue, Wynwood; 305.576.0201} in Wynwood back in January 2014 was a risk as a virtual unknown in Miami, he had plenty going for him—decades cooking in and running restaurants from Provincetown, Massachusetts to San Francisco. As luck would have it, he spent a few winters in Miami waiting tables for extra money and fell in love with Wynwood. Craving a concept of his own in a space of his making, Carulli seized the opportunity to introduce R House as one of Wynwood’s culinary standard-bearers.

Not surprisingly, the ambitious chef drew on his experiences in Provincetown for the R House concept. “There is an amazing art community in Provincetown,” Carulli explains of his inspiration. “Art and dining went hand-in-hand, so I knew I wanted to bring both to R House. With the space as big as it was, I thought I would originally divide it and run both a restaurant and a separate gallery. But the architect proposed combining both into a single space and I loved the idea.” That visionary combination is one of R House’s hallmarks. Many restaurants boast artwork on the walls—some even for sale—but R House has taken this exhibition to the next level. Moveable panels on columns were erected to hang rotating works of art, curated by White Porch Gallery. These panels not only allow for more intimate exhibition of artists’ work, but give the staff the freedom to divide the dining room for special events or private dining.

And lest diners think the art dominates the R House concept, Carulli wows with his globally inspired menu. For the last two years, it has been a coursed presentation, with standout dishes like the ocean-fresh Tuna Tartare, Arancini stuffed with jalapeño mozzarella, and Chile and Coffee-Braised Short Ribs garnering oooh’s and aaaah’s from diners on a nightly basis. But Carulli, along with his partner and husband Owen Bale, decided to transition the R House menu to a tiered model—one that allows guests to nibble or indulge, depending on their mood.

“I’ve found that coursed menus can be distracting,” Carulli admits. “While I’ve done them most of my career, I think people want more choice. That’s why we do a lot of family-style portioning and service now. It’s a great way for people to share and communicate, and it allows the kitchen to serve each dish in progression—when it’s ready.”

Carulli says the iconic dishes on R House’s menu will (thankfully) remain, but he will be digging into his Pugliese roots for more menu inspiration. “I’ve been playing with some of those southern Italian flavors, those rustic dishes,” he explains. “I’ve created simple dishes like Bread with Three Sauces as an appetizer, pepper-speckled Gamberi Aglio, beautiful pizzetta, and for sweet-tooths, Zeppole—blackberry or chocolate-filled Italian doughnuts.”

At the bar, the long-sung infusion program will continue apace, with some increased creative attention given to the seasonal infusions. Vodkas layered with tropical fruits like pineapple, tequila infused with jalapeño, and bourbons elevated with berries will all inspire signature cocktails, while the wine list—curated by Carulli himself—will continue to favor small vineyards and a balance of New and Old World labels.

As Carulli explores the next chapter of this relatively young concept, it’s nonetheless apparent that R House has become an anchor of the community—a landmark of growth and opportunity in a once neglected neighborhood. Today, foodies and nightlife revelers alike convene in R House’s dynamic interior, slowly pouring out into the gazebo-sheltered outdoors while DJs spin and cocktails pour under moonlight. And there are new happenings here, too, Carulli assures—new design, more greenery, an expanded deck. In six months, he says, R House will be the destination not only for dinner or art-gazing, but also for late-night revelry and dancing.

Not surprisingly, the long-hailed R House has mastered weekend brunch, too; all-you-can eat options like inimitable Berry French Toast and Steak and Truffled Eggs are apt pairs for bottomless mimosas or sangría. And if you sail in on the first or third Sunday of the month, you will be witness to drag queen performances galore at the restaurant’s twice-monthly drag brunch. “It’s so much fun,” Carulli laughs. “The community just loves those Sundays.”

But R House’s delivery of thoughtfully crafted, well-sourced food, drink, and culture is not the only reason it has sustained such a loyal following. Their belief in community engagement is equally as strong; participation in events like Taste of the Nation and countless fundraisers for the Human Rights Campaign, among other charitable organizations, sound their passion for activism to the entire city.

Indeed, R House is more than just a restaurant; it is a member of the community, a culinary polestar, a haven for culture. And in the jovial, passionate Carulli, the city could find no better inspiration.

Happy dining!

By Jeffrey Steen | Managing Editor