The Seven Wonders of the World have mystified humankind for eons.  Well, we may need to amend that list with the eighth wonder—Finga Licking’s Mystery Drink ($3.25).  Yes, this colorful kaleidoscope of liquid goodness will have you checking your blood sugar after a couple of sips, but it’s well worth it.  With each sip, I was transported to the 90’s where as a child, I would run to the frozen cup or candy lady’s house and get a chilled cup of Kool-Aid or a frozen cup and guzzle it down before I even hit the sidewalk.  There were other drink flavors such as the Watermelon Lemonade ($3.25), and my favorite, the Cucumber Lemonade ($3.25).   I enjoyed the Cucumber Lemonade so much, I took one to go, mixed it with my favorite gin (HENDRICKS), added a splash of freshly squeezed lime and ginger ale for a delightful summer cocktail…..you’re welcome!

Finga Licking Mystery Drink and Lemonade
The famous Mystery Drink and Cucumber Lemonade

Finga Licking Restaurant arrived in Miami a little over a year ago and now boasts two locations with a third opening in Fort Lauderdale Winter 2016.  I decided to visit the Miami Gardens location because it is closer to where I get my beard trimmed (Miami Gardens has the best barbers in the state of Florida in my opinion).  The hip hop themed eatery stays consistent with its rhythmic roots in a trendy exterior, and an interior where under quick casual standards could be considered opulent and over the top with design, presentation, and swag!  “We bought fun, style, and service expected at any South Beach restaurant to the mainland, and more specifically to our urban neighborhoods,” said Wallace Marshall, General Manager.  I honestly didn’t expect digital menus lit with neon lights, and a dining room brandishing chandeliers atop dining tables surrounded by cushioned leather seating with HD televisions in view from any seating arrangement.  As a nerd, I’ve never been able to match colors, so my sisters told me to stick with earth tones and to ensure I match my shirt color with my shoe color, and simply stick with black or blue jeans.  I followed their advice and haven’t missed a beat yet!  Well, E-Class, one of the three (3) owners, puts even the most experience designer to shame with his imaginative and hip swagger.  “E-Class designed everything.  He is a perfectionist and even switches his home design up every year,” Senior Chef Bridget Vargas stated as she whipped out her small pad to take down our orders.

I looked at the menu methodically and was pleasantly surprised with the options. I was ready to begin comparing each soul food option to the standards of my Grandmother’s cooking or that of Mrs. Juanita of JK Catering (The best damn cook on the planet)—how wrong I was.  Come to find out, I would not have that opportunity, due to the versatility and fusion the menu displayed.  This wasn’t Soul Food per se.  “Ms. Tasha pretty much designed the menu with assistance from our chefs to speak to an eclectic taste.  The base of our menu has roots in traditional African-American fare, with a Caribbean and Miami twist,” Marshall said, as he gave nonverbal hand directions to employees buzzing around the cozy dining room.   With that explanation, I then turned to Chef Bridget.  I’m about to get into the food experience, but I need to give a quick commentary on Chef Bridget.  I’ve visited quite a few restaurants and met tons of chefs along the way.  Most of the time, chefs can be a bit arrogant and extremely defensive.  Chef Bridget was one of the sweetest and most caring chefs I have ever met.  She was interested in places I’ve eaten before along with listening to me ramble on about the African influenced etymology of American culinary terms and other historical nonsense.  She sat right there and patiently listened, and then once again, gracefully took out her pad to take our order.  From time to time, she would leave our table to assist the cashier when the place began to get a bit crowded.  I really liked that leadership.

Dj Khaled Tasha e class
Finga Licking Owners Tasha, Khaled, and E-Class at their Miami Gardens location

I started with a pretty simple order—the Lemon Pepper Turkey Wing Dinner ($9.99).  The dinner comes with two sides, which I selected steamed broccoli and macaroni and cheese.  The mac and cheese was on point with a hint of spice that was different, but welcomed.  The broccoli was good as well. I appreciated that the broccoli was fully cooked and not soggy.  I hate when people serve soggy broccoli or veggies.  I feel that if you can’t make veggies without over cooking them, you DON’T BELONG IN THE KITCHEN.  For me, the fried lemon pepper turkey wings were the best thing on the menu, and my number one recommendation.  The lemony, buttery, saltiness is simple goodness dripping in this amazing butter sauce.  I asked what was in this butter sauce and Chef Bridget kindly smiled and said she would have to kill me if she told me; I contemplated, but realized I had to live to write the review.  Gulping the lemonade with this meal had me in a fat man state, but hadn’t quite reached the “itis”, so I continued my eating plans.  My stomach was happy.  I was happy. The white lady got happy….oh wait, sorry…went to church on you (Georgia Mass Choir – Come on in the room).

Finga Licking Turkey Wing
Lemon Pepper Turkey Wings

My next dish was the shrimp and grits ($14.99).  Father God, you know I’m trying to get right for summer 2017, but I just couldn’t resist. The gravy for this dish took me back to those summer country days as a child with my grandmother smothering pork chops in heaps of irresistible gravy!  Chef Bridget’s gravy on the shrimp was almost identical.  I began thinking Bridget was wearing a mask and she must really be a 70 year old grandma, the way this food was coming out of that kitchen.

Finga Licking Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and Grits

Guess what peeps?!  I saw there was more seafood on the menu. They literally had a fried lobster tail dinner that comes with two sides ($16.50).  I ordered it.  Granted, I was a little skeptical, after all I’m in a strip mall ordering lobster.  The dish came out with my mac and cheese and collard greens.  I sampled the collard greens first.  You know collards are sacred to black folk. If they were off point, I would have knocked all the plates off the table and ran to my car in a lethargic rage.  Good for them the greens tasted like a woman named Mother Geraldine Jackson made them.  Seriously fam, the collard greens were classic and Black Thanksgiving approved.  The lobster was fried as the menu states, “to golden perfection” and the dipping sauce provided was a hollandaise style cream based sauce which once dipped, gave the lobster an additional boost.

Finga Licking Lobster
Fried Lobster Bites with collard greens and macaroni and cheese

It was time for me to calm down. I realized that abs isn’t made in the gym, but the kitchen, so I asked about healthy options.  “You need to try the chicken salad. I drive all the way from Homestead for this food,” said a nosey large woman sitting next to me.  She was all in our business as we were reviewing the restaurant, but her unwanted commentary was eventually received.  I placed an order for the Grilled Chicken Salad ($11.99).  The menu reads Grilled Chicken Dinner, but I was informed you can turn any protein on the menu into a salad.  “We are very versatile in satisfying our customers.  Many of them may have certain health concerns, and we accommodate almost any alteration to our menu within reason,” Chef Bridget explained as she happily took my healthy order.  The salad came out with grilled chicken strips, red onions, peppers, on a bed of arugula sprinkled with feta cheese.  This was one of my second favorite for sure.  The salad can best be described as if Greece and Jamaica had a baby.  I named the salad “The Black Spartan!”

Finga Licking Salad
Grilled Chicken Salad

It had elements of a fresh Greek salad with a Caribbean twist. The salad dressing was just as mysterious as their sweet a#$ drinks.  It was just good as hell guys. I know at times you may think I’m putting on like some of those idiots on Yelp, but I’m just trying to convey how great some of my experiences are. This salad was everything, and no, I’m not overreacting.  On another note, I was very proud of what Finga Licking was able to do with this dish.  In minority communities, it becomes a bit challenging to find healthy and tasty options.  Well, I found one!  Point blank period, this salad was the S$%#.  Feeling my abs popping from that healthy option, I wanted to reward myself with a little sweet treat.  I ordered a Red Velvet Cake ($2.49).  Again, this cake nostalgically took me back to my dear grandma.  The cake was drizzled with a caramel based syrup that meshed with an odd vanilla taste, even though the base of Red Velvet is chocolate.  I asked, and Chef Bridget once again, with her beautiful smile said she would have to kill me.  Moving along, I was trying to get something that I wouldn’t like just so I can have at least one criticism for this overly happy team comprised of Wallace and Bridget just watching me enjoying their food.  I mean, a critic should have some form of critique, right?

Mystery Drink
Mystery Drink with Fruit

When I heard all the hype surrounding this place, I must admit I thought it was because DJ Khaled was part owner and people were just star stuck.  So, I put in one final order for seafood rice and chicken wings.   The “itis” was rapidly kicking in, and my eye lids were getting heavy sitting in that comfy booth under the chandelier hanging over me like that scene from Beetlejuice when all of them were sitting at that large table and those creatures came out on the dinner plates.  Ya’ll remember that movie? One of my favorites, they need to remake it.  Anyway, back to the review…….NFL great Dwayne Bowe walks in the door and greets Bridget, sits down and immediately gives his order, along with two friends.  However, Bridget comes to our table before placing the NFL guy’s order in, and checks on me and my photographer Korey Davis, (the best photographer in the game (‪#‎KoreyDavisPhotography) before she puts in Dwayne Bowe’s order.  I actually really appreciated that service.  One thing I loved about this place was the fact that the General Manager to the Head Chef treats all customers with the same service and attention.  “Given that this location is owned by DJ Khaled, Tasha, and E-Class, we get a lot of celebrities in here all the time. People like to come for that reason in addition to our food quality.  But we make sure we treat everyone like a celebrity, from the 14 year old kid to the 60 year old grandmother,” Wallace said.  Usually when managers say crap like that I just brush it off,  but me and Korey had been sitting here for at least an hour eating and ordering, while about 50 customers or so had come and gone through their doors.

Dwayen Bowe and Bridget
NFL Star Dwayne Bowe and Finga Licking Head Chef Bridget Vargas

Service was both quick and courteous. I decided to go over where Dwayne Bowe was sitting and ask him for some money, but I remembered I had pride, and my father taught me never to beg, so instead I just asked him about the food and his experience with the restaurant (Don’t play like you don’t think of that when you see rich people).  I mean, honestly, what do you have to lose besides your pride?  My pride is worth about a million, so I knew I wasn’t getting that, so I stuck to my reason for being there.  “Chef Bridget is the bomb. The food and service is always consistent. I get the wings, but I asked them to prepare it my way.” Bowe stated while munching on other dishes at his small table.   His wings were brought out by the cashier with each piece glistening in the sunlight. I was a little offended. What did he mean “his” way? Did they have some secret way of preparing wings for the rich and famous? Was I being bamboozled? I asked Chef Bridget when she came over with our last dish and she laughed and simply stated he gets a combination of their sauces on his wings.  I still didn’t care.  I wanted those wings.  I wanted to taste them. I wanted to hold them. Care for them….ok you get the point.  I decided to get a picture with Bridget and the NFL star.  They became distracted, and Bowe actually left his precious order of wings on my table.  As a good Christian, I informed the gentleman he was with, but it was too late, he left as well. I opened the abandoned to-go box and in a jealous rage, began eating them. DON’T JUDGE ME! They were some of the best wings I have in some time.  I tasted a new creation and became overwhelmed with emotion.  So if you go to this place, ask Chef Bridget to prepare your wings Dwayne Bowe style.  I call them “Bowe Wings” now.  If enough of us work together, we can get it put on their menu!

Finga Licking Wings and Rice
Finga Licking famous Crab Rice and Chicken Wings

A component of my last meal included a side of fried broccoli that Mr. Bowe had also abandoned. I commandeered them as well. Sorry I don’t have those items pictured because I needed to be stealth in my actions. The fried broccoli was a bit salty, but definitely worth getting because the texture was decent.  I noticed there was a dipping sauce for them, so I sampled it, dipped each floret inside which defused the saltiness. The sauce had to be ranch or some similar, you would have to ask them because I was just unauthorized eating at this point. The actual feature of my last dish was the chicken wings and seafood rice ($9.99), with additional pricing for seafood rice.  The chicken was good, but it wasn’t Bowe’s wings, so I was a little disappointed.  However, the seafood rice was very good. It was seasoned well, the way Black and Latin folk like with bits of imitation crab meat and shrimp.  I don’t like imitation crab meat, so I picked it out. You shouldn’t eat that stuff either; it is really bad for you. Consequently, get Bowe’s wings with the rice. Make sure you ask Chef Bridget for Bowe’s WINGS!

Starex and DJ Khaled
The Hungry Black Man and Finga Licking Owner DJ Khaled

My experience verified the hype I heard from my fellow hipity hoptity friends. There were very few negatives. The only things I would not order are the corn and string beans, because they are canned. I don’t like canned anything.  Everything else on the menu was fresh and bought from locally sourced markets.  I hope they consider changing those two items to match the other amazing fresh foods!  “Our people deserve a respectable eatery where staff is courteous and respectful.  They deserve a beautiful interior and exterior where you can choose to dine in or outside hassle free.  They deserve lobster and it’s important that we show our young people how they should be treated and how they should carry themselves when visiting our restaurant so they can understand and grow their sophistication elsewhere.  When you know how to be treated, your expectations and actions follow,” said Wallace as he cleared tables and made his way back to the kitchen.  I honestly was super impressed.  Chef Bridget makes you feel like family while Wallace runs a tight and efficient ship with his employees. This was a true gem for TheHugnryBlackMan as we select eateries and destinations in celebration of National Black Business Month. Find yourself in the  Miami Gardens area, take a visit to Miami Gardens Finga Licking.

Finga Lincking Restaurant – 17647 NW 27th Ave, Miami Gardens, FL, 33056 Phone: 786-520-4675

Cuisine: African-American/Caribbean

 

Cost: Moderate

 

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday

 

Reservations: For large parties only (over 10)

 

Credit cards: All major

 

Bar: None

 

Sound level: Moderate

 

Outside smoking: Yes

 

For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request

 

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

 

Parking: Small parking lot

 

Written by thehungryblackman

Starex Smith is an accomplished and experienced public administrator, fundraiser, foodie, and culinary business developer who has committed himself to maximizing the Black experience in the United States! He currently serves as Vice President of Strategy and Development for Black Tech Week with over twelve (12) years of experience in managing public/private partnerships, large scale events, and nonprofits. He has successfully raised over 20 million dollars in funding for various governmental entities, food companies, and individuals. Starex has assisted countless food industry businesses successfully obtain funding, taking mom and pop storefronts to scalable businesses. His success in working with restaurants sparked a passion for food and entrepreneurship which led to the launching of Sothern Bytes, a teaching platform food business dedicated to an ever evolving food industry with a focus on technology, culture and innovation. Having constantly run into stereotyping negatively affecting his dining and vacationing experiences, Starex decided to curate great destinations, restaurants, and discuss issues surrounding being a hungry Black man. Starex completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s coursework in Public Administration at Florida International University where he served as president of the Black Student Union and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated, Lambda Tau Chapter

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