The wait is over; Uncle Toms Barbecue has opened at last.
For 19 months, owner Ariel Rodriguez battled Miami-Dade’s Building and Water and Sewer departments to obtain a permit to start construction on the highly coveted spot located directly west of S. Dixie Highway (US1) on SW 124th Street.
During this time he also was opening another location in Hialeah and rebuilding the restaurant’s original spot in Coral Gables after having to bring it up to code due to a fire that took place there merely a month after he purchased the business.
“The main question I heard every day was, ‘When is this place going to open?’” he said. “Every day was a challenge. About six months ago I was about to throw in the towel, but I didn’t. I wanted Uncle Toms to succeed. I believe in it. I’m glad I didn’t now, because at this point I can say that it was very worth it.”
Rodriguez, who grew up a customer of the restaurant, acquired the business in 2013 from previous owners who had made the historic landmark a Cuban barbecue joint. He consulted with corporate chef Pedro Valdes and together they decided to take Uncle Toms back 65 years, restoring the business to its former luster.
The founders’ son Dennis Fantis and his family bestowed Rodriguez all of their recipes, cooking techniques, operational standards and designs, like their special sauce (a must-try for first-time visitors) and trademarked barbecue pit — a deep, enclosed cooking hollow surrounded by brick firewalls that uses wood to spur on the flame and lock flavor into the meat — that had garnered great acclaim since the business opened in 1948.
“We’re one of the only true pit barbecue places in the area,” he said. “It’s part of Miami’s history and it’s been a staple in our community for a long time. I wanted to revitalize it and make it what it was back in the day. But like I always tell everyone, it’s an ‘old-meets-new’ kind of thing. We’re bringing in that old style, the way Tom Fantis did it, but adding in our own touches to make it fresh as well.”
The location itself is modest in terms of décor. A lengthy bar area by the door is both welcoming and tasteful. Flat screen TVs are visible from every angle in the cafeteria style dining room, which is kept immaculately clean by its polite, attentive and well-dressed staff.
Although most items on the menu will be familiar to barbecue fans — tried-and true standards like ribs, wings, burgers, pulled pork platters, fried okra, chili and sausages are all there — the real difference is the taste. Grill master “Big” Ray Brown and corporate chef Pedro Valdes see to it that every piece of savory meat (like their impossibly tender brisket) has a smoky, woody flavoring.
Further differentiating them is the fact that none of their dishes are slathered with barbecue sauce, providing diners with the option to apply any or no sauce.
Every meal can be rounded out with crunchy, tangy coleslaw, perfectly buttered toast, fresh baked beans, medium-cut fries or several other great choices.
Rodriguez is working to bringing Uncle Toms Barbecue to even more hungry customers. A fourth location at 128 N. Krome Ave. in Historic Downtown Homestead is set to open by early August. He also has developed a catering business for events, which will operate independently from the restaurant but provide the same authentic dishes and use the same techniques by way of a portable pit.
Uncle Toms Barbecue is located on 8345 SW 124 St. For more information, call 786- 732-4391 or visit www.UTBBQ.com.