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Sandbar Grill opens in Grove; offers fish tacos, California 'feel'

BY RON BEASLEY

The new Sandbar Grill has opened on the site of the old Hungry Fisherman in Coconut Grove with a decided Southern California ambiance, a 'feel' that comes as no accident.


Owner Eric Leitstein (left) and General Manager Andrew Bunin outside new Sandbar

Tastefully furnished with ash blonde tables, stools and chairs, hand-painted waterfront murals and an overall beachy interior décor, this newest Grove watering hole, at 3064 Grand Avenue, promises to be a mecca for the 20 to 40-year-old casual crowd for lunch, dinner and after hours. It's also intensely sports oriented, with 15 television sets and eight satellite receivers to bring in just about any game or event.

"This menu is a fun menu and we're trying to be a fun place," said Eric Leitstein, one of the two California partners in the 4,000-square-foot, 210-seat Sandbar. "We feel that we're filling a need with a casual atmosphere. We'll probably do some live music down the road. But, it's more of a casual place to get something to eat, relax ­ with a very relaxed atmosphere in here ­ and then dancing late night, from 11 'til close."

Leitstein, 38, says the Sandbar Grill offers a surfer's southern California-Mexican menu, one that has been a huge success for him at his Canes Bar and Restaurant in San Diego. Prices on the menu top out at $10 and a good lunch can be had for under $10. You'll find such familiar fare as carne asada and pollo asada. But, for a real taste treat, be sure and try the fish tacos -- three ounces of marinated mahi or dolphin with pico de gallo, grated cabbage, a special sauce and cilantro.

"Fish tacos are so popular on the West Coast," Leitstein said. "Nobody does them here that I've heard of and I've been dying to bring them to Miami."

Leitstein tells a story of wanderlust and success that has origins in South Florida. He came to Ft. Lauderdale in 1984 at the age of 21 to live with his grandmother, fresh out of college in New York, with a degree in exercise physiology and a job in Surfside with the Pritikin Longevity Center. He soon moved to North Miami and wangled a bartending job with C.A.T.S., then an upscale club operation in the Mayfair.

"I learned how to bartend there," he said. "That was the first high-end place that I tended bar. So, I got a taste for Miami bartending worked there for a couple of years."

Leitstein soon found he liked tending bar, worked on South Beach for a couple of years before wanderlust struck and he moved on to Hawaii. He landed a job in Honolulu tending bar at the Hard Rock Café, decided to see Australia and worked the down-under bar scene for a while, all the time adding to his contacts and growing knowledge of the food and beverage industry.

"I knew someday I was gonna own my own place," he said.

Leitstein soon found himself back in the U.S., in San Diego, where he went to work in management for the Red Onion, one of the largest food and beverage operations in the country. When the Red Onion wanted to transfer him to another city, he quit and joined another big West Coast player, Joe McGillicudy's, where he met Joe Longo, the man who soon would become his business partner.

"I fell in love with San Diego," he says. "It was kind of a cross between Hawaii and Miami. The weather was great, but it wasn't as fast-paced as Miami or New York, or as slow-paced as Hawaii."

When McGillicudy's eliminated his marketing job, Leitstein and Longo put their heads together and began making plans to open their own place. In 1996, they unveiled a 13,000-square-foot operation called Canes, offering live music with name bands. After a year of struggle, the place caught on and became a huge success; so successful that the pair bought a second operation, an existing bar in old town Pasadena called McMurphy's.

"The story here is a Jew and an Italian buy an Irish bar in Pasadena from a Chinese guy," Leitstein chuckles. "Only in America does something like that happen."

Leitstein notes that because he has family and friends in South Florida, he always harbored the notion of one day returning to the area.

"I know Miami and I love Miami," he said. "I think it's a great city. And, I love San Diego. So, my dream always has been to be bi-coastal, to have a place in Miami and a place in San Diego."

For more information on the Sandbar Grill, please call 305-444-5270.


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