Jimmy'z Kitchen in Wynwood: Mondo mofongo
Upon entering Jimmy'z Kitchen in Wynwood, one is struck by how much bigger, brighter, and more colorful it is than the original outlet in South Beach. Granted, it would have been nearly impossible for the new North Miami Avenue venue to be any smaller than the teeny 16-seater on Alton Road. That place, still going strong, is ensconced in a weathered strip mall and situated far enough from the street that after almost four years, many SoBe natives still don't know it exists. That's about to change, perhaps along with belated acknowledgment for hitherto underappreciated chef/owner Jimmy Carey, who earned his chops at Miami's beloved and long-departed Brasserie Le Coze (a spinoff of NYC's legendary Le Bernardin).
The Wynwood locale is also off the beaten path. It is located on the ground floor of the glossy Cynergi building that hovers over a quiet neighborhood below. Yet tables surrounded by plastic chairs of varying and vivid hues on the patio practically shout out to passersby. The 50-seat interior, visible from the street through floor-to-ceiling windows, beckons with an urban-industrial appeal electrified by orange walls and other bright highlights. Because the ambiance is so cheery and sleek, and because diners are required to order their food at the counter, Jimmy'z resembles a next-generation fast-food chain. But the cuisine here is cooked slow — and with care.
Printed menus are available, but listings are likewise posted in large print on boards above the counter; daily specials and the wine list are chalked upon blackboards adorning the only nonwindowed wall. Diners should have plenty of time to peruse all the info while waiting in line; the restaurant was very busy during our visits both day and night. Word of mouth has evidently been positive and strong, and for good reason: Jimmy'z does so many things well that the need to queue might be your only quibble. There is also self-service involved in terms of getting water and other amenities at a central station in the room. Workers, however, deliver the food and clear plates — and do a good job.
Having a gifted chef doesn't amount to a hill of beans if the kitchen crew can't execute, but the cooks here are talented. This does amount to a hill of beans — such as red kidney, black turtle, and gandules, which with corn and cilantro vinaigrette form a scintillating salsa surrounding a grilled fillet of red snapper. A chilled chipotle dressing likewise pools the plate and adds yet more fetching flavor, although the fish is cooled so quickly by the accompaniments that you should consider this a zesty salad as opposed to a warm entrée.
Most popular of the entrée salads seems to be the jerked chicken, for plate after plate was paraded from kitchen to dining room. This might be owed to word of mouth within the restaurant, because the mound of field greens looks irresistible as it passes by with tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, mango slices, and chicken breast thickly, darkly, and piquantly crusted with jerk spices fanned across the top. Toasted almond slices and creamy sherry vinaigrette add the touches that ensure it tastes as good as it looks. Or maybe it is word of ear that spurs folks to order the salad: Listen closely and you can hear patrons murmur, "This is delicious!"
One of our favorite starters was bolitas de queso — five small spheres of breaded-and-fried cheese balls composed of Monterey Jack, cheddar, and white queso paisa. They were airy, as opposed to dense deep-fried mozzarella, and when laced with sweet guava sauce were so delectable I resented having to share them. Soup du jour brought moist wedges of chicken breast in broth greened with parsley and cilantro, and stocked with chunks of potatoes and vegetables.
Mofongo aficionados will cheer the presence of this Puerto Rican specialty served daily (it's available only certain days at Jimmy'z on the Beach). The puerco con mojo version is one of about a half-dozen offered and, like the others, arrives as a dome of fried plantains. Seeping from the crusty crown of starch were juicy, garlic-laden morsels of pulled, braised pork with onions and mojo marinade. The shrimp creole version boasted loads of plump crustaceans tossed with red and green peppers in a terrific tomato-based sauce.
For patrons seeking a protein punch sans plantains: Roasted Cuban mojo pork and shrimp creole are similar to their respective mofongo counterparts, but with jasmine rice as the starch. Rice also comes with entrées such as a country stew hearty with hunks of beef braised with large-cut potatoes, carrots, celery, and zucchini — quite the filling meal for $9.50. Chicken creole, with the same tomato-pepper base as the shrimp rendition, is just $9.25.
Prices are more than fair. Everything is under $20, and there are plenty of good eats for less than $10. The priciest main course is a grilled churrasco steak topped with chimichurri and accompanied by white rice, black beans (noticeably enhanced with green peppers), and two whole fried-and-smashed plantains; it's $16.50. Interestingly, a grilled sirloin steak with garlic-truffle butter, cottage fries, and a house salad is 50 cents less than the churrasco. No matter how you look at it, those are deals.
Beverage selections are extensive. Brew enthusiasts can choose from more than 40 beers, while enophiles can revel in the two dozen or so wines sold by the bottle. Whites range from $23 to $32; reds run a similar price gamut but start lower with a $19 Paul Bouchard Côtes du Rhône and reach up to a $49 Tempus Alba Pleno. Only a few wines are offered by the glass.
Nonalcoholic choices include the usual Coke and Snapple, but plenty of distinctive drinks are tendered as well: Dr. Brown's sodas; Manhattan Special espresso coffee soda; birch beer; Mabi, made from bark root; and Suio, a nitrate-free water from Italy, just to name a few. A fresh-steamed espresso costs only a dollar; a small cappuccino or café con leche goes for $2.
Desserts are $3.75 to $4, and most are variations on cheesecake or flan (a rum raisin bread pudding is often available too). The former includes guava and mango toppings, plus a special version glazed with caramel and walnuts and then dotted with diced apple — a revelation in how well the fruit pairs with the cheesecake. Caramel flan was creamy; coconut flan possessed the syrup-soaked texture of tres leches — more than sweet enough without an added drizzle of caramel. Still, it ultimately succeeded with pleasing taste, just like everything else at Jimmy'z. This is the sort of place you can hardly wait to recommend to friends.
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