The debates have already begun about whether Pimento, Eat Street's latest Caribbean cuisine addition, is "spicy enough." Spice addicts seek out jerk for its famed use of screaming-hot scotch bonnet peppers in the sauces. The actual jerk rub, however, is more of a slow burn, taking its flavor from freshly ground allspice berries, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, chiles, and smoke.
Pimento might have one of the best stories in the biz: A Jamaican executive moves next door to a Jewish rapper and takes up a lot of jerk grilling in the back yard. The rapper starts hovering around, napkin-tucked-into-shirt style, and they discover their shared interest in music and food. The rest is history.
Well, sort of. After coming up with their business plan based on Tomme Beevas' grandmother's recipes, they competed on the Food Network competition show Food Court Wars. They won. Beevas and partner Yoni Reinharz have been making the southern 'burb of Burnsville a hell of a lot more delicious ever since.
And now they've moved into the city.
The interior is spare but bright and gets the job done. The menu is the best kind of fast-casual: just five entrees plus a smattering of sides and choice of sauces and one dessert.
Red wine, white wine, Red Stripe, and what else? Nothin' else. What else do you need? Nothin'.
The food is an exercise in restraint, coaxing bounteous flavor out of simplicity — the best kind of soul food. Braised and grilled meats, rubbed heavily with jerk, provide the main event to coconut rice and beans, sweet plantains, and the simplest cooling slaw — just shaved cabbage, carrot, and scallion in a light citrus vinaigrette.
Spice levels are a choose-your-own-adventure affair, going from "Neutralizer" (no heat — sweet and smoky), to "Kill Dem Wid It!" (extra hot). There are three in between, including "Minnesota Nice" (medium), and even their take on ranch, which may seem odd until you think, "Hey, that's nice." Because you know, Minnesotans like ranch. We like it a lot.
In addition to jerk pork and jerk chicken (bone-in or boneless) and curry chicken, there are some upcoming additions, including braised oxtail, curry goat, stew peas (kidney beans and smoked meat simmered in coconut milk), and "brown stew chicken" pan-seared and served in a a mild, sweet sauce.
We loved everything we tasted, and the way the bowls make for a complete meal, zipping from fire to sweet to crunchy and cooling and back again in every bite. It also feels like you're doing yourself a favor by eating this way — the food is comforting, almost healing in its goodness.
Consider starting with a Jamaican patty, if only as a vehicle for hot sauce. The turmeric-tinted empanadas are filled with spiced beef or chicken, and are a popular street snack, or even a complete meal, in the Caribbean.
We're hotly anticipating the opening of the promised back patio area, where Reinharz and Beevas naturally hope to book live music. We asked whether there was a projected opening date, and unfortunately they are still unsure. But a smattering of sidewalk tables are available, and the whole place opens up garage-door style to take advantage of the breeze, so you can eat this food in the (almost) open air, the way god intended (it's BBQ, after all).
And for the record, we had zero issues with the spice levels. We were even reduced to that sucking in-and- out maneuver you try in vain to cool down your mouth.
It's hot, and in more than one way. Beware of long lines at peak times. Or mitigate your wait by taking advantage of the food truck parked out front, which offers an abbreviated menu at select times.
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
2524 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
1178 Burnsville Center, Burnsville