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FOOD + TRAVEL

Joey's cafe is right at home in revitalized Miami district

By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2009

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MIAMI - A decade ago, several young and aspiring art dealers moved to the Wynwood section of this city. Miles from the glorious beaches and glamorous nightlife of South Beach, the area was hot in the day, dubious at night, and gritty all the time. But its warehouses provided inexpensive studios and exhibition spaces and today more than 80 galleries inhabit what is now called Wynwood Arts District.

The only thing missing was a place to eat.

Enter Joey Goldman, a principal in Goldman Properties, and his London-born wife, Thea. At the end of last year, the couple opened Joey's, an Italian cafe. It's been packed ever since.

Goldman, no stranger to urban development, has worked with his father Tony for 19 years, rejuvenating properties in urban areas, such as SoHo and South Beach. Joey's is part of the Goldmans' vision to transform Wynwood into a lively pedestrian-friendly district. Urban planning aside, Joey's is a terrific place to dine. The executive chef, Ivo Mazzon, 29, hails from the Veneto region of Italy. "The chef is here 17 hours a day and when he's not here he's dreaming about this place," says Thea.

Mazzon designs the menu, in partnership with the Goldmans, with a focus on fresh, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. The meats, cheeses, olive oil, and even the flour (one type for pasta and another for pizza) come from Italy. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are locally sourced. The affordable menu, which features antipasti, paper-thin pizzas, salads, pastas, and a handful of entrees, changes daily. In fact, a specials board changes twice a day to accommodate some diners who eat lunch and then return for dinner.

"You have to care about and love every single dish," says Thea. "Buy the best product you can buy and do the least to it instead of the inverse. The chef makes the pomodoro sauce from scratch to order every time. He starts with cherry tomatoes and hunks of garlic, adds pomodoro puree and cooks it off."

Thea works the front of the house, greeting and seating diners with a genuine concern for their well-being. The customers "are the most extraordinary people I've ever been around," she says. "They're cultured, polite, artistic, creative. They order things people told me would never sell, like marinated sardines, tripe, and octopus."

The interior is casual but elegant, neither too cramped nor cavernous. Shelves of Italian wines, an open kitchen, and a mosaic wall made of tiny Bisazza glass tiles frame white marble bistro tables, set on a polished concrete floor. A small terrace is available for alfresco dining. Joey's has become a hot gathering spot in the neighborhood.

A glance around the room filled to capacity for lunch on a Thursday shows a young woman in red spikes with D & G sunglasses; two guys in the corner wearing matching pale blue button-down long sleeve shirts, scrolling through their BlackBerrys; an artist in a red T-shirt and Converse sneakers; and on the patio, a Miami art collector power couple.

"We identify with the customer because we are the customer," says Thea.

Joey's, 2506 N.W. 2nd Avenue, Miami, 305-438-0488, www.joeyswynwood.com