I arrived at the modest restaurant on Alton Road crammed between a Starbucks and a sushi place. Bernie's L.A. Cafe is pretty plain with the exception of colorful signage on the window, and a bright red tile wall, but edible treasures await for all who venture inside.
Bernie arrived wearing a casual gray t-shirt and immediately greeted me with a smile and a handshake. After a brief anecdote about Castro's Cuban takeover, his parents emigrating to Miami and his subsequent upbringing in a Cuban-Catholic neighborhood, we started to talk about his passion-turned-business. Matz said he's been cooking since he was a kid. His metaphorical bread and butter used to be a media company, which he says went downhill after 9/11. So, after that he went to culinary school. And hated it.
Fast forward to 2010, when Bernie's LA Cafe opens and becomes his second successful restaurant in South Beach; the first being the Cafe at Books and Books with prime location on Lincoln Road. Despite its huge success, Bernie says the Cafe at Books & Books happened by accident. Bookshop owner, Mitchell Kaplan, sampled his cooking one day and insisted Bernie start a restaurant on his property. They joined forces and the Cafe was opened in 2005.
Although there are plenty of meat dishes on the menu, Bernie recommends eating Vegan as often as you can. (No doubt his mother, Vegan for several decades, might have had some influence.) And try to stay away from processed "meats." (With the exception of Bernie's vegetarian chicken. It's the best meat substitute I've ever eaten. Ever.) Fresh, whole natural foods are simply the way to go.
Cooking isn't just a business for Bernie. In fact, he wishes it wasn't a business at all, rather, a hobby. (I wish my hobbies were half as successful as his.) "Food should be an artform," he muses. "People aren’t just seeing or smelling your art, they’re consuming your art.”
What's his secret to delicious, healthy food-art? It's not something he does, it's what he doesn't do. In Matz's menus and recipes, you will find no butter or cream, no frozen, canned or processed food, no dry herbs, and no preservatives. Then, it's just a matter of making the plates look pretty - which they do quite well here at Bernie's and Books & Books. For locals, both places are welcomed oases from the surrounding overpriced, tourist-targeted eateries that dish out heavy, fatty "authentic" Latin food like it's going out of style. And you know how stylish people want to be in South Beach.
If you want to try your hand at cooking Bernie's SoFlo cuisine, you can purchase up a copy of his 'fresh & healthy family style' cookbook Bernie's Kitchen online or at either of his restaurants. It even comes with a DVD if you'd rather watch Bernie in action.
The Café at Books & Books
933 Lincoln Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33109
Bernie's LA Cafe
1570 Alton Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33139