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: April 28-May 4

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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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Joshua Page / Heavy Table
Joshua Page / Heavy Table

1-new - oneLamb Jambo Bowl from Jambo Kitchen
Jambo Kitchen, the restaurant that replaced Afro-Deli in the West Bank African Development Center, is getting in on the rice bowl craze. A version with spiced rice, lamb (think gyro), pineapple, cabbage, carrot, and bisbaas sauce is satisfying and flavorful. The savory meat, sweet citrus, and chili-based sauce play well together, and the rice is solid in a supporting role.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Joshua Page]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

2-new - twoOnion 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 to run next week.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

3-new - threeSaganaki at Christos
Sure, ordering the Saganaki at Christos is a cheesy (pun intended) thing to do, but let’s be honest: Who doesn’t need more food set in flames in front of your eyes, just for your entertainment? Plus, you get mild, melty cheese with a crispy exterior and a dash of lemon, perfect for squooshing across pita triangles. Shout “Opa!” and chow down.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Ted Held / Heavy Table
Ted Held / Heavy Table

4-new fourCheddar Jalapeño Bread from Brake Bread
This is a surprisingly versatile bread for savory applications. There’s enough jalapeño to give it a good amount of heat, and just enough cheese that it doesn’t become greasy, as some cheese breads do. The crumb is perfectly soft, and the crust puts up some resistance but won’t tear up the roof of your mouth. The bread brought our turkey, cheddar, and avocado sandwiches to the next level, and made great toast the next day.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -five Bánh Xeo Omelet at Dumpling
It sounds simple enough: a thin almost crepelike omelet wrapped around bean sprouts, a spicy cucumber salad, herbs, and bits of ground chicken. But the Bánh Xeo at Dumpling is a surprisingly satisfying and subtle breakfast, delivering eggy substance, spicy heat, cool and refreshing herbs, and an overall lightness that is a surprisingly pleasant way to start the day. Despite being almost the opposite of chicken-n-waffles, it’s nearly as much fun and a lot easier on the gut.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]