The Evolution Of Food Blogging, With South Florida's Burger Beast
In some circles, instagramming pictures of your food is grounds for ridicule. But for food bloggers, it’s what brings home the bacon (all pun intended).
I spoke to local food blogger Sef Gonzalez, better known as the Burger Beast, about what it’s like to run a food blog in a now foodie South Florida.
How has the South Florida food scene evolved since you began blogging?
The scene itself is totally different. I mean, when I started blogging eight years ago it was kind of a struggle to really find new places to write about, new and interesting places. And I kind of started going through and checking out a lot of mom-and-pop shops. And that's what a lot of the initial stuff I wrote about was.
And then there's been this renaissance over the last few few years where it's just chefs from all over the country are coming here and opening restaurants.
What inspired you to start Burger Beast?
I had been in retail management for a long time and it was one of those days where I got home and I was very frustrated. My wife suggested, 'Maybe you should just write about restaurants you like eating at.' She actually said, 'You should call it Burger Beast' because I would order burgers at every restaurant we went to. No matter what kind of restaurant it was. Even if I saw it on the kids' menu, I would get it, which is absolutely ridiculous to think but I did do that and continue to do that. And that's actually where it started. I started writing really about burgers and then moved into comfort food because initially there weren't really a lot of places to get great burgers in Miami. In 2008 it was very limited. Now they're everywhere.
You specialize in comfort food. So what's a Miami comfort food?
The No. 1 Miami comfort food in my opinion is the croquetta, without a doubt. My friend says that no party in Miami starts until they bring out the croquettas, and I think that's kind of true.
What's the best croquetta in Miami?
Since you're trying to get me killed, I'm a big fan of Islas Canarias; I'm a big fan of Sergio's and of Palomilla Grill. I love those three.
Can you describe for me your ideal Miami meal?
Well since you threw Miami in there I'm going to cut a burger out of it. I would start with an appetizer, probably with croquettas and a tamal en hoja. I'd maybe have a palomilla steak with grilled onions and then I'd have for dessert a flan.
What do you think is the best Miami has to offer?
I think that a lot of people think when they come here on vacation that all the great spots are on the beach. That's something that I've worked over eight years to kind of prove that there are; I'm not saying that there aren't great spots on the beach, but if you really go into the suburbs and start looking you're going to find great places to eat from. You just gotta be willing to drive. When I go visit another city, those top 10 lists mean nothing to me. I try and find local bloggers and see what they're writing about. Because they really know the city better than someone who's just trying to throw up a top 10 list every couple of weeks on their website.
If the city were a condiment what would it be?
Guava. I think it would be guava for sure.
So what does it take to run a food blog?
A lot of people think it's rather simple, but you really have to want to do it. It's one thing to be an Instagrammer, which a lot of people are nowadays, but another thing is to have the commitment to go back and edit images and actually try and put together some story talking about the restaurant. It's not the same thing. It's not the same thing and blogging as a whole, I think, is kind of tapered off a little because of just the whole Instagram revolution. And I love Instagram, but I still think that there's great blogs out there too that people should check out.
What's your favorite part about doing this?
My favorite part about blogging is just finding that the people go check out the places and kind of agree with me. I also love to hear people who don't agree with me. We're not going to have all the same palettes. It's cool because my wife and I go to a restaurant and we have totally opposite opinions. When we agree on something it's a miracle. It's cool that I have people who go, 'I always agree with you except for this one time,’ and I love to hear that. I think that's cool.
Pan con Bistec (Shiitake Mushrooms, Shallot Marmalade, Truffle Cheese Fondue) from Doce Provisions. They just opened up in the old Little Bread spot in #LittleHavana This place is most definitely #BurgerBeastApproved #Miami #PanConBistec #TryTheirBurgerAtHamburgerHouseParty A photo posted by Comfort Food Connoisseur (@burgerbeast) on Apr 30, 2016 at 5:37pm PDT
So you work on the Instagram too? You’re a one-man operation?
Yeah. I write the blog and I do the Instagram. The Facebook essentially feeds from Instagram and so does the Twitter. But I do respond to any comments on them. I know some people kind of hate people who do that. Well, that’s what I do.
Other than the blogging, we also got into producing events a few years ago and we have our upcoming museum.
How did you find the stuff you’re going to put in the museum?
Well, over the course of the last eight years I started a collection of restaurant and comfort food restaurant memorabilia -- a lot of burger stuff, things from napkin holders to old menus to signs to statues. It's pretty big and I've had it here on display in our offices for about a year now.
I approached Magic City Casino and say, ‘Look I have this idea; I'd like to open a full-sized museum,’ Full-size being about 1,500. I don’t know if that's full sized, but it's big enough for us. And they love the idea and it should be open hopefully before the end of the year.
Is there a community of South Florida food bloggers? Do you guys ever get together and eat or hang out in any way?
There is a group of South Florida bloggers and Coral Gables Love, if you've ever read the blog it's a great blog. She's kind of like the head of them and they've actually been here. We did have a meeting here one time. I'm very supportive of what they do and if they ever need, or if any bloggers ever need anything, many of them ask me questions and I welcome them over here. I sat down with them and talked about what I've done, and the most important thing is to be persistent because at first you're one in a million. You’ve got to work and get your voice out there, be always truthful and people will find you.
You say the things have exploded recently with Instagram and just food pictures everywhere. Did any of it take you by surprise, this revolution?
I don't think. For many years the blog had semi-small images and my wife would always tell me, ‘We gotta put bigger images. That's all people care about.’ A few years back I went and I changed the images to about twice the size that they were. This is around the time Instagram started. And she was right; that's what people care about.
Most people don't want to read. They just want to see the picture that looks great. ‘And where is this from? OK, let me tag my friend. Hey we're going there this weekend.’ If you go to any of the South Florida bloggers, or any blogger for that matter, you can just see them tagging, ‘Hey, this is where we're going. This is the place I was telling you about.’
It's just a much quicker way. There are some people who obviously research a little more and that's where the blogs come into play. They want to go to a web site and they want to read a little more of the background and see more of the pictures. But the majority of people just want to see the image and have their mouth drooling and they're ready to go.
Is there anything I didn't touch upon about your experience, something that's a huge part of what you do that I totally glazed over?
Like I said, people seem to think that it's easy. And it is in some ways, but without having the drive, a driving factor to make you want to be the best or want to put up quality images or seek out a new restaurant -- because when you really think about it, I can't be going to the same restaurant every single day. If I’m constantly putting in the same pictures, no one could care less. First of all, they’ll think I work for that restaurant. Sometimes that does happen because I have a restaurant right near me that I eat at often. A week passes and I put three pictures from there on three different days and people are under the illusion that they're giving me free food -- which they don't, because I always pay for my food. Or they’ll think I'm part owner; which is not true. At the end of the day, I'm not like some corporate entity, so I'm actually just going out and eating.
When I’m eating, you're just actually seeing where I'm actually going to eat. I do not plan out my week and say, ‘This week on Monday I'm going here and Tuesday I'm going here.' As of right now, I have not even decided what I'm having for lunch or for dinner. Once that time comes, I will figure it out and then I will go out and snap the picture and you'll see it on Instagram.
Do the restaurants already know you and get nervous when you walk in?
That would probably be a good question to ask them. Some of them recognize me when I come in. It's kind of hard to miss me.
There's not many people my size in this world so I don't I don't think you can miss a beast of this magnitude.
It's funny. The people who follow me, they want to sit down and talk to me about food in Miami, not just their restaurant. They want to talk about food and that's what I like. I like to sit down with people who are kind of knowledgeable and interested about not only their restaurant but the rest of the restaurants in the Miami food scene.
Who or what do you think is a major driving force of the Miami food scene now?
That question can be answered in a matter ways. If I'm looking at it from the blogger angle, Food For Thought Miami is probably the best writer in Miami. He's really great. He writes more on the fine-dining tip. Him and I don't really overlap as far as what we write about, but I think he's the best writer in Miami. Probably the most fun blog is the Miami Food Pug. They somehow manage to put a plug into the pictures of the food. It's pretty funny and they go to really great restaurants and they're great people.
As far as restaurants, I have my old standbys. I love El Mago De Las Fritas, El Rey De Las Fritas, Islas Canarias. I'm an old school guy, so Palomilla Grill’s been around almost 40 years. I like anyone who's been around a long time. Sergio's. I'm from Westchester so I gotta rep my guys at Pincho Factory and Kendall Latin House.
All the people who, when I started they started. Ms. Cheezious is another great one. They’re not only great people, but they produce great food and actually care about their customers. There’s also so many food trucks. There's just so much. I think that's why when someone comes to Miami I kind of see where they go and it seems like they're all going to the same places and and I always hope they follow me so I can try to lure them to at least one of the places I really like.
Do people try to send you things you have to turn away?
Yes, and sometimes it's a battle. It's kind of ridiculous. I want to pay and they don't want me to pay. They're just being courteous. I get it, it's an old school thing because they're being appreciative and on the other side I want to be supportive. I want to support the business and I want to pay for the food.
It forces me to carry cash around because if they won't take my card. There's not really much I can do. And in some instances I literally have to negotiate, as preposterous as that sounds. But I want to pay and my accountant can confirm that.
Where do you see the future of food here in Miami?
I was actually born in New York, but I came here when I was a year and a half old. I've been here my entire life. I grew up here in what I like to call beautiful Westchester. I was born in New York, but that's not even a consideration. Miami is in my town. I think that, like I said, for a long time there's a concentration of restaurants down on the beach and kind of Wynwood became a thing.
But a lot of areas are starting to get revitalized with food. Coconut Grove, which is such a great space, there are starting to get revived over there. Even down where Finka opened there’s Mr. and Mrs. Buns down there. There's a lot of stuff happening in the actual suburb area.
I think it's kind of cool to see that because I remember being in high school and having to go to the beach. That was pretty much the deal. Now they're starting to put stuff in the neighborhoods where you can actually just hang out on the weekend and you don't have to drive out. That's good to see I think it's just going to continue.