Jimmy'z is well-known for its mofongo but it's not the only kind of food they serve.
Last Sunday afternoon I attended a foodie blogger dinner at the seven-week old Jimmy'z Kitchen in Wynwood. Now, you know Sex and the Beach is not technically a food blog, so when a restaurant really excites me enough to compose a few paragraphs, it's because they had me at first bite.
Ten years ago, you wouldn't even think to go to Wynwood unless you had a death wish. It was the dregs of Overtown. It was so deserted, you'd think you had come across a set for a post-apocalyptic movie. Not so today -- intrepid businessmen like chef owner Jimmy Carey are helping to revive the once blighted neighborhood.
Carey also owns a small but successful restaurant in South Beach that has been open 4 years come May. The new mainland restaurant on North Miami Avenue features bright, crayon-colored seats under a portico and a loft-style interior that's also colorful but cozy. At Jimmy'z Kitchen, you order your food at a counter, pay up front and the food is brought to you. There's no traditional wait staff. The system is informal but the food is far from that -- high quality without high-falutin' prices.
The interior at Jimmy'z. Architect turned restaurateur Rebecca Blanco whipped up the design.
Mofongo is a traditional dish of Puerto Rico, but it has many variations in the Caribbean, such as mangu in the Domincan Republic and fufu de platano in Cuba.
It makes sense: mofongo, which is basically fried green plantain mashed with garlic, olive oil and pork rinds with some kind of protein served on the side -- uses the plantain, a Caribbean staple brought over from Africa. Plantain was cultivated and consumed by slaves and white colonizers alike during the colonial era. Slaves, who had little access to protein in most islands, survived on plantain and starchy root vegetables such as yuca and dasheen, also known as ground provisions.
So, next time you eat plantain, think of all the history behind this relative of the banana. Today, no Caribbean pantry goes without it.
To look and listen to Carey, you'd never assume he was raised in Puerto Rico. He looks as gringo as they get and speaks flawless English. But his food is pure island joy, even though it's not really a Puerto Rican restaurant -- other dishes are served too -- sandwiches, salads, steak, mahi and more are on the menu.
Even so, I'm obsessing about how well and creatively Jimmy'z Kitchen treats the humble plantain. It's refreshing to get my plantain on without having to do it Cuban style. At most Cuban restaurants in Miami, you'll find it the form of a tostón (twice-fried, crispy green plantain) or maduros (fried ripe sweet plantain). Tostones, if done right, are crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, but never greasy. They don't hold up well as leftovers. They should be eaten immediately.
At Jimmy'z, we had arañitas (little spiders), so called because shredded plantain is fried into a little basket that resembles the leggy insect. Again, a variation on a popular Caribbean-wide way to prepare the fruit. Here, they were crispy, light and filled with a creamy roasted bell pepper sauce. They sat at the table for a while and they held up to the time test.
Arañitas reminded me of the Caribbean anansi spider folktales that came from Africa.
The other version of plantain we sampled was a tostón topped with a delicious, citrusy ceviche. These tostones were just right -- crispy enough to not get soggy with the liquid from the ceviche. It was a perfect tropical hors d'oeuvre.
Ceviche and tostones make good bedfellows.
Last but not least was the legendary mofongo. A little tower of plantain goodness was served above tender roasted pork in a light, garlicky mojo. Jimmy'z serves mofongo with other meats and seafood -- I've heard from several friends that their favorite is the shrimp.
Our individual tasting portions were small compared to the regular serving, which could easily be shared by two. Come hungry ... it's quite filling.
Other dishes in our tasting including an homage to Jamaica with sliced jerked chicken over greens and a house vinaigrette. Fortunately the chef didn't go Mickey Mouse on the spice, so it had a hearty kick.
I also enjoyed a day boat scallop over a potato corn hash. My particular scallop had been harvested in Massachusetts and processed immediately with no preservative chemicals, so it was only 3 days old. It was succulent and coated perfectly on the outside with a home made blackening seasoning.
And finally, although I'm not into sugar, I took more than a couple of bites of a guava cheesecake, that being one of my favorite tropical fruits. The cheesecake was not overly sweet so that gets a thumbs up from me.
Casual, friendly and unpretentious, Jimmy'z would easily become a go-to favorite if only I lived closer. But it's definitely worth the drive from South Miami and what with the Wynwood, Midtown and Design District neighborhoods enjoy a renaissance, I often find myself venturing north.
IF YOU GO
Jimmy'z Kitchen is located at 2700 North Miami Avenue and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. A decent wine and craft beer collection is available to wash down all the flavorful food. Delivery also includes beer and wine.