Rusty Pelican to reopen with new look and chef

By Karen Barofsky….

Rendering of the redesigned Rusty Pelican schedule to reopen in November.

John Tallichet, president and CEO of Specialty Restaurants Corporation, has announced that executive chef Michael Gilligan will be in charge of the new state-of-the-art kitchen when the Rusty Pelican, Key Biscayne’s legendary waterfront dining destination, reopens in November after a comprehensive $7 million renovation.

In addition to a complete design enhancement, the iconic restaurant, a Key Biscayne mainstay for nearly 40 years, will undergo a total conceptual transformation as well, re-emerging as a buzzing, contemporary hot spot that celebrates the best of South Florida’s bounty with perfectly executed dishes that showcase the freshest seafood, locally sourced vegetables and prime cuts of beef.

Gilligan, 43, a native of England, has been a well-regarded fixture on the South Florida dining scene for close to seven years, most recently as executive chef for the W South Beach Hotel & Residences.

After graduating from the College of Food and Arts in Birmingham, England, the talented chef spent his formative years honing his trade as an apprentice chef at Michelinstarred restaurants in France and England before heading to New York in the mid-1990s where he held high profile positions at Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Grill and Montrachet, and helming his own critically acclaimed NY Times two-star restaurant, Candela.

He headed to South Beach in 2003, wowing diners at celebrity-magnet Rumi, and then as director of culinary operations for the Conrad Miami, where he oversaw all aspects of hotel dining, from the signature restaurant Atrio to banquets, catering and room service. In 2009, he moved to the W, overseeing all food and beverage operations for the stylish property, including the signature Spanish restaurant Solea.

Now, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to help redefine the iconic Rusty Pelican and complement the newly revitalized atmosphere with cuisine to match. With the restaurant’s energetic vibe and breathtaking waterfront views as a starting point, Gilligan’s innovative new menu will give diners ample reason to linger beyond sunset cocktails.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of a restaurant with as much history in Miami as the Rusty Pelican,” Gilligan said. “I am currently at work creating a new straightforward Modern American menu that mirrors the clean, modern look and vibe of the new Rusty Pelican. The cuisine will revolve around fresh local ingredients to create dishes that will become instant classics, but with a twist. There will be a lot of fun elements on this menu, like small plates that are great for sharing.”

Chef Gilligan’s menu will encompass enough variety that families will be just as comfortable stopping by for a casual midweek dinner as will diners conducting a business lunch or those enjoying a romantic night out on the town. In a restaurant that is surrounded by water, the chef plans on having seafood play a prominent role, with freshly caught fish daily, pending availability, but promises the menu will be versatile enough to include something for everyone.

According to longtime managing director Peter Knezevic, special events also will take on a whole new life.

“Special events have always been an important part of the Rusty Pelican’s success, and will now ascend to an entirely new level, with menus offered that use the cuisine served in the dining room as a starting point,” Knezevic said. “Custom menus will be simple, delicious and celebratory.

“Our elegant new décor will be modern, minimal and understated with beautiful new furnishings and treatments comprised of a subtle color scheme and rich textures chosen to showcase our unparalleled waterfront location. Events can be just as flexible as dining in the restaurant — from a casual laid back cocktail party to a fullfledged seated formal wedding for 500. We’re raising the bar for special events and weddings in South Florida.”

Upon reopening, the newly reconfigured Rusty Pelican will seat 214 in the main dining room and accommodate another 100 in the lounge and bar. The outside patio also will provide seating for 100 more. On the second floor, event facilities — which include a fabulous outdoor terrace — have their own separate entry and can accommodate more than 500 people total in convertible ballroom space that can hold anywhere from 60 to 500.

Complementing it all will be a lively new bar and lounge scene, with a broad selection of microbrews, wines by the glass, signature cocktails and bottle service served at comfortable low slung couches in the indoor bar/lounge and outside on the beautiful patio. A showcase wine cellar will display 1,500 carefully culled vintages, and provide myriad choices for oenophiles in the dining room and the lounge.

During the renovation, the on-premises catering sales office remains open and will continue booking events for the holidays and beyond. Check the website at www.therustypelican.com for more details at or the sales staff can be reached at 305-361-1818. The Rusty Pelican is located at 3201 Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne.


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