Amaris Jones brings a new taste of soul—and lots of heart—to the culinary equation in the District.
Since its transformation from abandoned post office to restaurant in 2008, the building on the corner of NE Second Avenue and 40th Street in the Design District has had a rather interesting culinary trajectory. It was here that Miami got familiar with Timon Balloo (now executive chef at Sugarcane), who doled out sushi rolls like they were going out of style for Domo Japones. Then it became a showplace for Michelle Bernstein and the reinvention of Spanish tapas she called Sra. Martinez. These days, the tastes eminating from the kitchen have a distinct dash of Philly to them thanks to the talents of Amaris Jones.
“It’s a neo-soul concept,” says Jones of her approach at South Street. “Traditional soul food, but with a twist.”
That “twist” isn’t truffle-topped grits or deconstructed sweet potato mash of any kind, but rather a slew of substitutions to make the fare lighter and more figure-friendly.
“I’m not serving any pork and I’m not cooking with a whole lot of fat,” explains the Philadelphia native. “Traditionally, soul food is made with fatback or a lot of lard, but I’m using light oil. You know smothered pork chops? I’m doing smothered turkey chops. And those collard greens that are cooked with hamhocks? I’m using smoked turkey instead.”
South Street’s co-owner, Amir Ben-Zion, who heard Jones’ soul food pitch back in the Domo days, is quick to give his endorsement. “Even though Amaris is not a chef with formal training, she is amazing,” he says. “When we did our first tasting we had no clue and no expectations. I came in with a very critical bunch with extensive experience—10 chefs and 10 restaurant people—and afterward they all said the same thing: ‘Sign her up!’”
But Jones’ current post wasn’t the result of one great meal for the right people. She has been testing out her recipes on loved ones for years. “I’d cook Sunday dinner after church for my friends,” she says, “and eventually word got around: ‘Amaris can cook!’”
It didn’t hurt that her friends just happen to include many members of the entertainment industry. For nearly 10 years, Jones has managed Elite Home and Lifestyle Management, a firm that services business executives, athletes, singers and actors in everything from finding a home in a new city to securing Super Bowl tickets. Prior to that, she served as Sean “Diddy” Combs’ estate manager and assisted hip-hop producer Timbaland for five years.
Not coincidentally, music will play a big role in South Street. Jones’ business partner, DJ Affect, will be vetting the restaurant’s music program, which will touch on gospel, smooth jazz, Motown, funk and old-school rap—or, as Jones puts it, “the sounds of Philadelphia.” There will also be regular live performances in a second-floor lounge where a 120-year-old grand piano sits.
New sounds, new flavors and a new chef in a rapidly evolving neighborhood: sounds like South Street is just the brand of soul Miami needs.