The phrase “mall food court” excites us about as much as “prison mess hall.” Malls and prisons are places where you eat to fuel, not to dine — still, long stints of incarceration or shopping can make even the blandest, greasiest food seem like a king’s feast. Since we generally avoid mall food courts (and prison) at all costs, we were less than jazzed to eat at the newest addition to Burnsville Center’s subterranean food court: Pimento.
Sure, the little Jamaican joint won a bout of Food Network’s “Food Court Wars,” earning a free year of rent. But that doesn’t change a basic fact: Pimento is a fast food restaurant in the food court of a suburban mall.
Well, we’re pretty much convinced. This place is good — great compared to the normal food court schlock. The menu is simple: You choose between pork ($8), chicken ($7), or veggies ($6); wrap or bowl; and spice level (mild, hot, or extra hot). The mains come with sides of fried sweet plantains, beans and rice, and cabbage slaw.
The pulled pork is dynamite. Not even the slightest bit greasy, it’s succulent and has a great tangy kick. Thankfully, the “Jerk BBQ Sauce” comes on the side — both because the pork doesn’t need it and the mild and hot versions are too sweet and gloppy (the extra hot version is thinner, far less sweet, and has a more pronounced jerk flavor, but it’s probably too spicy for most).
While not as flavorful as the pork, the chicken is a solid option. The white meat is a bit dry, but impressively moist dark meat saves the dish. We also enjoyed the vegetarian entree — a fresh, flavorful, and cooked to order mix of greens, zucchini, cauliflower, onion, and sugar snap peas. We’re impressed with Pimento’s attention to the veggie option, something rarely seen at fast food joints.
The sides do a fine job of complementing the mains. Mildly seasoned, the raw cabbage salad and red beans and rice skillfully play the straight man to the amped-up main acts. The fried plantains are wonderfully sweet and caramelized, unmistakably Caribbean, but they lack crispness (which seems due to time spent in a warming pan).
With its bold flavors, fresh ingredients, and passionate staff, Pimento seems out of place in this poorly lit, cavernous mall food court. We fear that once the novelty of winning “Food Court Wars” wears off, the restaurant may hurt for business because it’s breaking out of the bland and greasy food court mold. During our half hour or so in the cafeteria, we noticed that Pimento had only three other customers, but the usual suspects (sandwich shops and Chinese take-out counters) had constant lines.
Hopefully our fears will prove unwarranted and Pimento will develop a loyal following and have continued success. Although we wouldn’t make a special trip to dine in Burnsville Center, we just might organize shopping jags around mealtime.
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
Burnsville Center Food Court
1178 Burnsville Center
Burnsville, MN 55306
HOURS: Mon-Sat 11-9, Sun 11-6pm
OWNER: Tomme Beevas, Serge Kogan, and Yoni Reinharz
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $6-8