Wayne Eldred Keeps his Miracle Mile Mainstay Fresh
By Lizzie Wilcox
Straying far from his original life plan to become a Catholic priest, Wayne Eldred took over Tarpon Bend Raw Bar & Grill in 2013. In fact, he strayed from a few career paths before becoming the owner of Tarpon Bend, having studied mechanical engineering at FIU.
Eldred had worked in restaurants since he was 15-years-old, but only to make extra money. He worked at a Burger King during high school, and washed dishes at a Ruby Tuesday while at FIU. Eldred ended up staying at Ruby Tuesday for over seven years, working his way up to become “their youngest GM in the country at the time.” From there he was recruited by the previous owners of Tarpon Bend, whom he worked for from 2005 to 2013, when he bought them out and became his own boss.
Eldred says he owes his success in the restaurant business to the way he was raised. “I’ve always had a natural affinity for hospitality,” he says. “My parents were very generous, very good people, so hospitality was something that was inbred in us.”
Eldred attended high school in Daytona Beach, but had a diverse childhood. He was born in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. His father, an engineer, was constantly transferred for different projects. The family resided in Jamaica, India, Egypt and finally England. In 1992, they moved to the U.S.
“I’ve lived all over the world, so I can come up with all kinds of dynamic food products,” Eldred says. One of those dynamic products is the Bombay steamed buns. Made with clove-braised chicken, red onion and cilantro, the buns were added to the menu as a tribute to his mother, a British-Indian woman, who passed away last year. He tweaked it a bit, putting it all inside a Korean steamed bun, creating a soft and flavorful dish.
While such “grill” items are offered – including excellent burgers and fried chicken – seafood holds sway at Tarpon, dishes like seared yellowfin tuna salad, a dolphin Rueben and whole fried fish. Six months ago, Eldred revamped the menu, catering to the tapa trend with small plates and “shareables.” The new best-seller? The Szechuan calamari. “Every single one is hand-battered to order, whereas most calamari are pre-battered and then fried,” the owner says.
My parents were very generous, very good people, so hospitality was something that was inbred in us
Eldred also finally brought sushi to the restaurant with the new menu. “I’ve been wanting to do sushi here for a decade,” he says. Tarpon now offers five rolls; the fan favorite is the Machu Picchu, a Peruvian style roll made with corvina ceviche, salmon, avocado, aji amarillo, salsa criolla and truffle ponzu. It’s a bright and refreshing addition to the seafood lineup.
The Patagonia Shrimp roll, which Eldred calls a “comfort roll,” is another addition. It’s stuffed with shrimp tempura, jalapeno, scallions and cream cheese, and topped with sliced avocado and spicy mayo. The jalapeno and scallions add a nice crunch but are not spicy. If you want a kick, add some real wasabi. Unlike most restaurants that have horseradish-based wasabi, Tarpon serves the real deal from the root of the plant Wasabia Japonica. Real wasabi affects you in a different way: It hits the sinuses and not the throat like horseradish, and the heat doesn’t linger.
Eldred is big on serving dishes one by one, as soon as they’re ready, so that each can be enjoyed at the proper temperature. This is especially important for bites like the tuna tartare. The dish, consisting of hand chopped yellowfin tuna tossed in extra virgin olive oil, balsamic confit, shallots and chives, is served atop a warm rice cake. “You want to bite through it so you get the warmth of the rice cake and the cold [of the tuna] at the same time,” Eldred says. As for 2019, which marks the restaurant’s 15-year anniversary, Eldred already has plans. On Thursdays and Fridays, Tarpon is going to have a $10 lunch menu from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For the same price, they will also roll out a bar menu every day from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., an adjunct to an already popular happy hour. “That’s going to be, I think, massive,” Eldred says, whose philosophy is to “undersell and over deliver.”
As for his life passion to become a priest, Eldred never gave up on the idea of service to others. As well as being chairman of the Doctors Hospital Foundation, he is on the board of directors for the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Camillus House, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, and the Baptist Health Foundation. “It’s all about serving, and about giving,” he says. His mother would be proud.