For the love of food, music, and community, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen pulsates on Nicollet Avenue

Bone-in jerk chicken

Bone-in jerk chicken Tony Nelson

Tomme Beevas bounds through the front door of his five-month-old restaurant, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, wearing a purple dashiki and freshly twisted dreadlocks. His business partner, Yoni Reinharz, has on a green “JA” (Jamaica) baseball cap cocked to one side. They meet in a hearty embrace.

Beevas is a Jamaican transplant who arrived in Minneapolis to work as a Cargill executive. Reinharz is a Jewish rapper who has produced local hip-hop impresario Dessa and national Jewish rap artist Matisyahu.

By chance, Beevas moved into the suburban house next door to Reinharz, and the two quickly bonded over their mutual love of music and food. Beevas would be grilling jerk in the backyard, and Reinharz would float over on the curls of smoke, like something out of a cartoon. “I’d have my napkin tucked into my shirt,” he recalls. “I was the Kramer to his Seinfeld.”

Their story is almost too uncanny to be true. Each man had a long-standing urge to open a restaurant of some kind. Reinharz had tinkered with a food truck in the past, and Beevas wanted to bring his grandmother’s home cooking recipes to the American market. They just clicked.

As great stories go, it got even greater. They cooked up a scheme to appear on the Food Network’s competition show Food Court Wars, and they won. The prize was a rent-free year-long lease at Burnsville Center.

Three years later, Pimento is still making that food court a destination, and making Burnsville’s food scene a hell of a lot spicier.

Beevas and Reinharz

Beevas and Reinharz Tony Nelson

But their second location on Eat Street has truly put them on the culinary map.

You’ll know the place because it will be the only storefront with reggae and dancehall pounding out onto the sidewalk. The interior colors are the unmistakable yellow, green, and black of the Jamaican flag, and artwork emblazoned on the walls boasts Jamaican patois. “Mi deh yah” = “I’m here!”

You’re here. Pimento is an all-out homage to Jamaican culture, with likenesses of famous Jamaicans stenciled onto the tables. There’s Bob Marley, of course. There’s Peter Tosh. There’s Marcus Garvey.

They’ve also got big plans for a Kingston-style outdoor hang on the back patio, with a stage for live music. Keep a close eye on them next spring, when these changes are scheduled to appear, along with a full bar.

And while all of these island charms are an excellent excuse for expats to visit, the two men say it’s the coming together of so many different guests that makes their hearts swell. “[It’s] the diversity of the clientele,” Beevas beams. “Religious, ethnic, economic — more so than anywhere I’ve ever seen.”

They come for the deep, soul-gratifying braises, stews, curries, and jerks, the sort of food that you won’t be able to avoid if you have any sort of soft spot for homestyle cooking made with a lot of time and coddling.

Piles of low-and-slow-braised chicken or pork arrive over rice, alongside a cool, straightforward slaw and caramelized plantains, sugary and bronzed and nubby at the edges. This is comfort food incarnate, so long as you’re comfortable with the blaze of chile that laces this humble cooking.

Pimento has taken care to consider the Minnesota palate with a few menu items (“boneless chicken is an option here, and never, nowhere in Jamaica would you find a chicken with no bones,” Beevas laughs). But Beevas and Reinharz continue to be astounded as guests clamor for more adventurous things. No way did they think curried goat or oxtails would sell, but sell they do, and mightily.

“Walking through the dining room and seeing the diverse audience sucking on oxtails?!” Beevas can scarcely believe it. He’ll keep pushing into new, delicious territory. Banana-leaf roast fish is coming soon, along with callaloo, a popular leafy green vegetable dish. Meanwhile, they’ve had a difficult time keeping up with demand for the Jamaican beef patties, the flaky, turmeric-hued pastry filled with curried ground beef. “Almost every table wants one,” he says.

Their signature jerk dishes are marked by heady and fragrant allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and thyme. These dark seasonings are the backbone to the dish that then gets ignited, like a match, by vivid sauces, glowing with chile and citrus. There are five handmade heat levels, from “neutralizer,” just sweet onion and paprika, to “kill dem wit it!” which is of course extra hot with habanero and lime.

It’s all deceptively simple, but still fans come in droves for the love of the jerk.

Among those fans are Dave Chappelle, the Marleys, most any Caribbean musician who happens to breeze through town, and almost anyone related to Rhymesayers, our hometown hip-hop label that also stays fueled via allspice and chile.

The food speaks to them, yes, but it’s the vibe of the place that resonates at least as much as coconut beans and rice. A visiting band recently had their people fetch the luggage from the hotel rather than leave the restaurant in time to check out and make it to the airport. They were having too much fun listening to dancehall music and knocking back Red Stripes.

“We’re rough and real and rugged,” says Beevas.

It’s for the love of island culture that Pimento exists. This is a home away from home for “all the Caribbean people from the Cities.” They invite steel drum musicians to perform for their guests. And on October 22, they’re hosting the Jamaican bobsled team as part of a fundraising effort to get everyone’s favorite bobsled team to the Beijing Olympics in 2022.

Braised oxtail

Braised oxtail

Pimento isn’t just a place to eat, but a scene, and it’s a scene that inspires the “L” word more than most.

“All my favorite chefs coming in here couldn’t have nicer things to say,” says Reinharz. “They all say, ‘We love what you’re doing.’ It couldn’t be more validating.” Even their health inspector returned to dine on the night after their inspection. What could be more validating than that?

“One Love” is the phrase made famous by Bob Marley. It speaks to the universal love experienced and expressed by all people, regardless of background.

Go to Pimento Kitchen and get a taste of what it feels like.