Making Cuban fried chicken with Little Bird

Inspired by Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, Justin Sherrer hopes to launch just one Little Bird in Miami’s growing Arts and Entertainment District. With a long-standing history of working in and managing restaurants around Miami, Sherrer believes he know what this city needs — locally sourced, culturally creative cuisine. Alongside his girlfriend and partner, Lisetty Llampalla, he hopes to use only the finest, freshest ingredients, to really capture that “Miami style.”

Why do you want to open a restaurant in the A+E district?

JS: I want to take local ingredients and flavors and bring it into the community. I think Miami has too many old school sushi bars and old school restaurants. There are a lot of local artisans like Miami Smokers and Zak the Baker. I want to take all these local ingredients and bring them together in one place. I want to make my own spin on a Miami style restaurant.

What is the “Miami style”?

JS: In Miami, I feel like it’s all a blend of so many different cultures, and that’s like the food I want to do. Miami has a lot of different cultures, so I think the Miami style would be to take them all together and put them in one restaurant. I mean we’ve got Cuban, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, American. We can blend that all together. For example, I would make croquetas, but I would make them with the Miami Smokers picante chorizo and make a badass meat lover’s croqueta with an aioli Peruvian sauce. I would use a local cobia and make a nice charred sashimi with an amaretto glaze and compressed watermelons. That way I can have the local flavor as well as the international.

What are some other “Miami style” dishes you’re thinking about? 

JS: Well, I would make a pan con lechon, but I would do it in an Asian way. I’d use steam buns and add aioli and marmalade. I would also make fried chicken, cheddar cornbread waffle, and a spicy Cuban sriracha honey. The sriracha would be bought from a local guy named Mike Diaz who makes an artisan Cuban sriracha. Another entree I’ve been doing for years is a local yellowtail snapper with a mojito rum butter with roasted bananas and coconut rice. I’ve been doing that dish for 15 years, and that just wouldn’t change. For dessert, Max Santiago, one of the best pastry chefs in Miami is working with me. We designed a guava and cheese empanada, with a cilantro syrup, passion fruit pulp and coconut foam. We also designed a key lime creme brulee donut. We’re also thinking about making a chocolate cuatro leche, so it’ll be like a tres leche but with four milks. We’d add a chocolate liqueur and dulce de leche cream.

What are your past qualifications and experiences?

JS: I’ve opened six CinéBistros in the last eight years. I’ve opened probably 20 restaurants in my career. I’ve done it all. I’ve been a part of the opening team, kitchen design, plating, making recipes, menus, everything. This is what I do and who I am. This is what I’ve done for years and years. Now I’m working on opening a CinéBistro in Cincinnati, Ohio. At a company with 28 locations right now, I’m the one they called to open their new location. So, hopefully in a few months, I’ll be in Miami opening this place. Right now, I’m training a local chef from scratch. This is what I’ve done for years and years and years. From payroll, to invoicing, to front of house. I’m doing all of it, sourcing the spoons, the help, the waiter, everything. I have a lot of contacts in Miami and plenty of help to make this work.That’s how I know that I can be successful. I feel like I know exactly what Miami needs and wants.
LL: I am a chef. I used to work with Gulf Stream. I also helped open Naked Taco and now I’m working at Naked Lunch in Downtown. I know the procedures to open a restaurant and how to manage a restaurant, so I will do more of the management and Justin will be the chef. With that said, if you have a restaurant you kind of have to be everywhere.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

JS: These days, people have a lot of allergens, so you have to be careful about that. Especially in the last 10 to 15 years, you have to be careful to designate without seafood or without gluten.
LL: In the beginning, everything is difficult. You have to get the licensing, the liquor license, decorations, etc. It takes a lot of time and pressure.  Food is the easy part because we’re chefs already.

How do you overcome that?

JS: I tell my servers to always tell me to speak with the guest personally to clarify any menu items and make them something special to ensure they’ll won’t get sick. We want customers to come back because they’ve got that personal attention. I have such a core base of regulars — they have my phone numbers they send me emails and they ask me to have certain things ready for them.
LL: You just work and get it done, and then you prioritize the food.

What’s your favorite Miami restaurant?

JS: It’s on 12th Ave. It’s called Taqueria Viva México, a small taco shop in Little Havana. They have the hottest habanero sauce. I go there every Monday and Tuesday. My second favorite place is called Bread + Butter. It’s a new Cuban-style restaurant. So instead of making old school Cuban, the chef puts a twist on it. I go there every Monday and Tuesday, too. I also love gigi’s for their steam buns.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

JS: When I made this special wagyu rib eye with truffle mashed potatoes.

And the worst?

JS: Liver. Nobody likes liver. Also during my childhood, I was forced to eat tuna casserole, so I will never, ever put that in my mouth again.