Island Paradise

Harry Singh's Original Caribbean Restaurant
3008 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; (612) 729-6181
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 11:00 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; the restaurant will close from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. until Labor Day; cash and checks only.

 

The first time I went to Harry Singh's new restaurant well-wishers kept parading back to the kitchen to wish Harry luck. The next time I went, ditto. Then again. "People in Minnesota are very nice, very polite, very kind," explains Singh in his lilting Trinidad accent. "And people around here in this neighborhood, they are very, very nice."

Well, far be it from me to diminish the niceness of Uptowners, but being nice to Harry is one of the more ego-gratifying ways to spend a few moments, because after an initial 30-second tour--the new photo mural of a Trinidad beach, the drawing of one of the typical homes of Singh's youth, complete with a grandma rolling out balls of roti dough--Singh starts to pepper his well-wishers with his signature blend of beguiling promises and flattering questions: When the beer and wine license comes through, hopefully by November, "we will have Carib, Red Stripe, Bank's--you ever had Bank's? That's a strong beer. That's a wicked beer. Oh, I know you. You're going to like that." When the new pepper crop arrives from Trinidad, not only will Singh make his signature yellow-pepper sauce, he'll also be making a sauce so hot he can barely bring himself to speak of it: "Oh, it's like hell, it is. Hot, hot, hot," he gravely shakes his head. "If you just take a toothpick and dip it in that sauce, people, their heads fall right off. I could give it to you, but I dare not do it."

And if that's not enough, the restaurant will soon see a lunchtime buffet, priced around $5.50, and, for an appetizer--clams! What do you think of clams? Will Uptowners like clams? And fish? What about trout? Salmon? What do you think? And soon, one day a week, the restaurant will be entirely vegetarian. What do you think--are there a lot of vegetarians in Uptown? Will vegetarians like to eat vegetarian on Tuesdays? Or Thursdays? Will they like okra? Spinach? Sweet potatoes?

So you stand there and nod sagely. Yes, vegetarians will like to eat okra on Thursdays. Certainly. Yes. By the time Singh gets around to dedicating one of those weekdays to vegetarians, 300 people are going to think that the deciding sage insight was theirs.

Until those glory days arrive, Singh's newest restaurant--opened this past June after a couple of years at Cedar Avenue South and East 32nd Street, which came after two decades in various other Minneapolis neighborhoods--is exactly like it's always been: good, cheap, plentiful, and rewarding in its exotic simplicity. As usual the best dishes are the rotis--the word refers both to a just-made big, round flatbread that Singh makes to order, and that bread folded around a generous pile of curried stew. (A filled roti sort of splits the difference between a burrito and an Indian stew with a side of bread--this makes sense if you consider that Trinidadian food is basically Indian food filtered through 100 years or so of Caribbean life.

Most rotis at Singh's are priced at $6.95 and are served very plain and homestyle--just a vast quantity of stew and bread, no fancy garnishes or sauces. (Singh does boast a signature hot-pepper sauce; and for those in the know enough to ask, homemade West Indian chutneys are an off-the-menu staple.) The rotis come filled with such things as chickpea and potato curry, curried chicken, curried beef, curried lamb, curried bay shrimp, or curried vegetables such as just-cooked and still-crisp carrots, celery, and cauliflower in a tomato-curry base. Any of these is an unimpeachable meal for the price, but if I had to pick favorites I might go for the vegetable roti, which in its yellow, fenugreek-accented curry does more for carrots than just about any local dish I can think of. Or I'd get the nicely gamy and dark-tasting lamb curry ($8.50).

Singh's jerk chicken is an interesting version, more a stew-pot jerk flavored with lots of aromatic vegetables in addition to the spices. Anyone in love with the Jamaican barbecued version should try this one, as it makes an interesting contrast. Ordinarily $12.95 gets you a portion so big it could serve two for dinner. Once I convinced the waiter, Singh's son Robin, to sell me two pieces of jerk chicken for the price of the chicken-wing appetizer, $6.50, which worked out well. So there it is--my suggestion for improvements in the appetizer list! Also, I'm putting my plea in for a roasted-sweet-potato roti. And, um, something with fresh spinach and peanuts. Yeah, that should just about do it for me and my deep insights.

As for you, it looks to me like you've got two options: either wait and wait for the vision to be realized--when this story hits the stands, Sonny's first production run of ice cream made with Harry's house-made mango, soursop, and chocolate-rum flavorings should have debuted--or get on in there and get your two cents' worth in, while the two cents are flying.

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