Jambo! Kitchen in Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Jambo! Kitchen
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

Heavy Table Hot Five: May 5-11

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Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

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James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveChamoy Croquette from Travail’s Spotlight Dinner
Last week was our first visit to a Travail Spotlight dinner, but after the insanely entertaining and remarkably consistent cooking and on-point service, it certainly won’t be our last. There were plenty of highlights at this Mexican-inspired feast by Chef Benjamin Feltmann (everything from bold chicken mole to a house-made choco taco dessert to a fried grasshopper), but the most remarkable of all might have been a fried sphere containing brined fruit known as chamoy. Like the relishes of Savory Sweet (see item 4), chamoy presents a full arsenal of flavor: sweet, tart, salty, and spicy in equal measures. This croquette was 100 pounds of gusto in a 2-ounce package.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveANZAC Cookie from Baker’s Field
The coconut oat cookie known as the ANZAC biscuit commemorates Australia and New Zealand’s participation in the First World War. It’s also delicious — subtle, nutty, mellow, and excellent with coffee or tea. We tried our first one at the Baker’s Field pop-up sale at the Food Building last weekend.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Paige Didora / Heavy Table
Paige Didora / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveRamp Frittata at L’etoile du Nord
Ramp season is upon us, and the frittata at L’étoile du Nord in Bayport features them beautifully. The dish is made to order, rather than being reheated by the slice, and uses apples, parsnips, and gruyère cheese as well as ramps. Strong coffee and two sunny patios make the trip worth it.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Didora]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveOnion Pomegranate Marmalade from Savory Sweet
The preserves featured in Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen have a few things in common: They’re not too sugary, they’re balanced, and they pack a flavor wallop. The Onion Pomegranate Marmalade is a terrific example. It brings together a deep, satisfying earthiness with the brightness of cider vinegar, ginger, red pepper, and pomegranate. We tried it while interviewing authors Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen for a long story that ran yesterday.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -five Lift Bridge Cowlaboration #6 (Orange Pale Ale) at Red Cow
Barely carbonated, and with a gentle undercurrent of mandarin orange, Lift Bridge’s Cowlaboration #6 beer (created with and served at Red Cow) is easy drinking in warm weather and pairs up nicely with wings or pulled pork. Although it’s pitched as an orange pale ale, the citrus and acid are quite retiring, and the smooth creaminess of the beer suggests an orange creamsicle without being pushy about it.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]