Jambo! Kitchen, the new restaurant in Cedar-Riverside’s African Development Center, is out to replicate the success of its predecessor, Afro-Deli, which moved to the East Bank of the University of Minnesota.
Chef Jamal Hashi’s “fast casual” menu draws inspiration from East Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and features rice bowls, tacos, and sandwiches. But the crown jewel? Bold and beautiful bisbaas sauce. Featuring garlic and peppers (jalapeño, we believe), the fiery Somali condiment burned our innards and won our hearts.
Our first date with bisbaas was unexpected. Unfamiliar with the sauce offerings for a lamb rice bowl ($8, below), we simply selected the one with the coolest sounding name. The bowl didn’t need a condiment — gyro-like lamb, yellow-tinted “African rice,” and small pieces of fresh pineapple were a well-balanced flavorful combo — but the bisbaas is what landed the lamb bowl at the top of the Heavy Table’s weekly Hot Five list. It was a revelation, like the first time we spooned a dollop of chimichurri onto a juicy hanger steak.
Working our way through the menu, bisbaas remained our faithful sidekick. For instance, the sandwiches we tried lacked chutzpah, but bisbaas added some much-needed attitude. Without it, The Haji ($7, below) — ground beef, fresh vegetables, and a Thousand-Island-style dressing on a sturdy roll — was satisfying but not attention grabbing, and its accompanying fresh-cut fries literally fell down on the job.
Even Chef Hashi’s best-known dish, Sahel Sliders ($8, below), didn’t win us over. Lean, ground camel patties weren’t particularly flavorful, but were too chewy for our tastes. A dense pretzel bun accentuated the unfortunate texture. Happily, some sweet pickles and, of course, a slathering of the lovely, light-green bisbaas sauce provided character.
Only one main dish didn’t beg for bisbaas — the Manchurian taco ($5, below). A refreshingly creative vegetarian option, the taco features a wonderful paratha bread “tortilla” filled with cauliflower florets. But the concoction is too rich, and big flavors fight each other. The coating on the “Manchurian” cauliflower and a lather of Thousand Island-ish sauce smothered fresh celery, carrot, and cabbage, and gave the taco an unpleasant level of sweetness. Bisbass would only have added to the chaos.
We were slightly more disposed to a Vegetarian Sambusa ($2). We again admired the shell, which was light and had a nice crackle, like a wonton. The stuffing, however, was ho-hum, bringing to mind the frozen “mixed vegetables” we pushed aside as kids.
Taken together, the food at Jambo! Kitchen is decidedly uneven — not unusual for such a young restaurant. But if Chef Hashi successfully recalibrates some of his promising dishes and keeps the bisbaas flowing, Jambo! may very well rival the success of its predecessor.
Fast casual African in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis
1939 5th St S
Minneapolis, MN 55455
612.354.7251 GENERAL MANAGER / CHEF: Mahad Ibrahim / Jamal Hashi HOURS:
Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-8 p.m. BAR: No RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $5-$8 NOISE LEVEL: Moderate PARKING: Street
Nowadays, everyone is — as my friend would say — DTB: down to brunch. Anytime. Anywhere. Obviously, the concept surrounding brunch isn’t anything new. With that said, there seems to be an unspoken brunch battle within the confines of the Twin Cities and beyond. “Do you know of a good brunch place where I can take my parents?” “XYZ has the best brunch. Have you been yet?” And need I mention the inevitable hangover brunch craving? Brunch is the new black.
With what seems to be an endless array of options, establishments really need to step up their game to even have a chance of repeat customers. There are too many restaurants that have it down to a science. This brings me to Makers Cafe, the latest venture from Dunn Bros. in conjunction with Cafe Inc.
The restaurant plays the “local” card and deploys the tagline, “Eat at your desk with dignity,” so we were expecting goodness. And in terms of sourcing and decor, all seemed well: the fast-casual dining eatery uses Autumnwood Farm ingredients, Wood From the Hood decor, and it sells homemade crafts from local businesses. Sadly, actual breakfast food fell flat — figuratively and literally.
The Cinnamon Roll French Toast ($5) was lackluster. At times, we didn’t know if we were actually eating the brown paper plate it was served on. It looked and tasted sad and lonely.
Look at a map of Lyn-Lake and you might conclude that World Street Kitchen, the bricks-and-mortar incarnation of the food truck by the same name, has moved into hostile territory. WSK (which had its soft opening last Friday) slings Asian-inspired sandwiches and small plates, but right down the street Moto-i offers Japanese pub grub and house-brewed sake. Just up the block, Nightingale stays open late and dishes up bistro bar food small plates. And around the corner, you’ve got Fuji Ya and its extensive menu of sushi and noodles, to say nothing of Latin-Asian fusion powerhouse Chino Latino further to the west.
The more the merrier, says Chef Sameh Wadi (top), who helms WSK and the downtown Minneapolis fine dining hotspot Saffron. “I’m super excited,” he says. “When people have a like-minded approach to food, it’s really awesome for the neighborhood.”
For Wadi, the competition is a scene, not an obstacle. He sees the neighborhood as primed for his adventurous, boldly flavored style of mix-and-match global cooking. “It’s one of the things at Saffron that I’m worried about,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of independent restaurants around… it’s me, and Isaac [Becker] across the street [at 112 Eatery] and that’s our little circle, and right down the street we have HauteDish. It’s us three, that’s pretty much it. Everyone else around us is a nightclub or shit-slingers.”
Saffron is known for dishes like its seafood tagine, its foie gras with medjool date-almond briouat, and its fried lamb brains; World Street Kitchen, by contrast, will echo its truck namesake in terms of moderate price and casual vibe. “I feel like the truck is a special feel,” says Wadi. “Obviously we’re trying to replicate that by having an open kitchen and not having any servers, just having counter service, and having menus hung up there.”
Wadi cooked up a few preview tastes for us last week while his brother Saed put the front-of-the-house staff through some pre-opening training drills. Dishes made by the head chef before a restaurant has been broken in can’t be taken as gospel for the restaurant’s long-term output, but the ideas were both sound and promising over the long term.
As we contemplated a couple of the restaurant’s dishes, Wadi broke down the food philosophy still further: “The menu is divided into two different sections — the health conscious, and the stoner food.”
For the former: We tried the Vietnamese noodle salad ($9, above), which was refreshing as a cold lake breeze in mid-August, and a surprisingly straightforward version of the dish, with cold rice noodles, shrimp, pickled daikon, and cucumbers, plus mint, cilantro, basil, green onions, lettuce, crushed peanuts, and nuoc cham fish sauce dressing.
And we found the aloo tikki chaat ($4.75, above) to be an explosion of flavor, spice, heat, and contrasts, a superman of a dish in a Clark Kent package. The dish appears simple, like a samosa filling turned out onto a plate: “We have potatoes, a little bit of dal, and some garam masala from the Spice Trail — what! what! — we have two chutneys, a tamarind and date chutney and cilantro chutney, a little bit of lime yogurt, and fried sev, which is a [chickpea flour] noodle.”
As for how we found the KFC homage known as the MFC, read on.
THE HEAVY TABLE: For those diners who know what you’re putting out at the World Street Kitchen food truck, how will the brick-and-mortar restaurant be different?
SAMEH WADI: We’re going to take the same concept and crank it up a little. Obviously the kitchen here is bigger — the flattop here is bigger than the entire kitchen on the food truck.
At the truck, the days we put the Bangkok Burrito on, the people who eat the Yum Yum Bowl don’t show up. Both of them are going to be here at the same time.
This is the first time ever they’re going to be served on the same day. I don’t know what’s going to happen. World peace, because of two foods… ?
HT: So the menu will be bigger…
SW: We typically would have one or two sandwiches on the trucks — here we’ll have six or seven.”
Some dishes are going to be a little more upscale than what the food truck will offer. One of the dishes is a banana leaf-wrapped fish with coconut rice and a marinated radish salad. It’s a little more upscale than [dishes served from] the food truck.
HT: Is this a reaction to the expansion and improvement of the fast casual segment of the market in recent years?
SW: For sure. Even in the fast casual category, big food companies are really raising the bar and helping people understand… people who would usually go to McDonald’s or Burger King or something like that are now stepping up and going to Chipotle or Noodles & Company. I’m not saying those guys do amazing food, but it’s a good start.
It’s just a couple of dollars difference to get something hand-crafted and chef-driven, with good ingredients.
HT: This sandwich is intense — a lot of carbs between the biscuits and the fried chicken interior, but the bright flavors of the feta and carrot slaw really keep it alive.
SW: It’s our MFC [Moroccan Fried Chicken sandwich]. You’ll need a knife, a fork, a spoon, maybe even a stretcher afterwards. It’s a buttermilk biscuit with white cheddar and green onion. We have the fried chicken, marinated in North African spices — cumin, black pepper, cayenne, paprika — spicy feta mixed with smoked paprika, and the carrot salad is very traditional in a lot of mezzes, tossed in preserved lemon.
This is our stoner food, right here.
HT: How about the bar options?
SW: We’ll have beer and wine cocktails and sake cocktails. The list was put together by Rob Jones [bar manager at Saffron, formerly at Meritage] and Alberto Blanco [sommelier at Saffron].
All the beers on tap are local — the cans come from all over the world. We’ll have a sake-based caipirinha, forties of Miller’s High Life, Mickey’s grenades, other fun stuff like that.
Around us we’ve got a lot of great, beer-centric places; we’re not going to be competing with them. We’ve got the world’s only sake brewpub outside of Japan — I can’t [mess] with that, I’m not even going to try, so I’m just going to have some fun.