It was a Tuesday night, almost 8pm and the dining room of Jimmyz Kitchen was sparsely populated. The streets outside were quiet. At the same time tranquil and ominous, many cities have these “neighborhoods in transition.” The trendy and hip or at least those who pretend to be, live in close proximity to the bums, crackheads and the decent but impoverished. Many cities have neighborhoods like this. The Short North in Columbus, East Cleveland, in Miami it’s called Wynwood, The Design District. Nestled between the infamous hood of Overtown, Little Haiti to the north, and “midtown” which is otherwise merely the extreme north end of Downtown, the design district is home to lots of warehouses turned art galleries, haute design furniture stores, fancy or at least expensive restaurants, and still quite a few carry outs, liquor stores, and mom & pop beans & rice joints. A promising indication of the direction the area is headed though is the relatively new shopping center and high rise residential development anchored by a Target, Home Goods & Marshalls.

Jimmy’z Kitchen, opened in this environment a few months ago as an offshoot of their long time Miami Beach 0peration on Alton Road. At 2700 N. Miami Avenue, Jimmy’z is not surrounded by fancy sights or on a trophy corner, but the location is convenient to many potential diners, including Downtown, the nearby University of Miami & Jackson Memorial medical facilities, all the Design District galleries and the midtown condo residences up and down Biscayne Blvd.  The dining room is bright and inviting, with a combination of vivid color and unfinished concrete. Occupying an unusual niche between fast – casual and full service dining, one places his or her order at the counter as if one were in a fast food restaurant, then proceeds to take a designer plastic seat and wait for table service when the order is ready. There was a menu written in chalk on the wall and normally one can assume that these are the daily specials but the cashier told me that the chalkboards were old and to ignore them, and to refer to the printed menu above the cashier stations instead.

My companion and I decided to start with a shared appetizer of conch salad ($9.99) that came served on three large tostones. Called patacones in Colombia and Venezuela, tostones are flattened and fried plantain slices. The conch salad was deliciously prepared – not too creamy and piquant but not too sour. Conch salad is The Bahamas’ version of ceviche. The same idea, made with conch as the star instead of shrimp, fish or some other seafood. Like ceviche, the trick is to make it acidic enough to properly pickle the fish without overpowering the delicate seafood flavor. Jimmy’z gets it right.  Oh, we ordered a bottle of wine. A very good Cotes du Rhone, 2007 Les Trois Couronnes was just $19.00. Wine prices ranged between about $14 to $50 per bottle and I believe we got an excellent value for our bottle. By the way, don’t be offended when you ask for a glass of water to accompany your meal or wine. They will point across the dining room to some cups and water pitchers; you serve yourself. If you order a soft drink or a tea, they give you the bottle at the counter as if you were in a Subway restaurant.

Thinking we would split and share a couple of entrees to sample more variety, we decided to start on our main course by ordering the Churrasco Mofongo ($17.50). For those unfamiliar with the cuisine of The Greater Antilles, mofongo is a dish made of fried and mashed plantains to which other savory ingredients are added such as pork rinds, garlic, onions, sauce, etc. Not to be confused with mangú, which is simply the plantain equivalent of mashed potatoes, mofongo is not a side dish but the base of a hearty meal and most certainly NOT diet food. Mofongo surely has something to do with so many great “beisbol” athletes coming out of Cuba, Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic, 3 places where mofongo is a staple. If you eat this stuff on a regular basis you are going to have surplus kilocalories of energy to burn!

I have had plenty of mediocre mofongo over the years, even in places like San Juan and Santo Domingo. Mofongo is a lot like an omelet. The ingredients are very simple, it’s all in the technique. Jimmy’z doesn’t sweat the technique, they know what they are doing. Mofongo when prepared properly is a balance between creamy and crunchy. Think about an expertly prepared french fry or hash brown. The outside is crispy and the inside is creamy.Not only was the mofongo perfectly balanced and not too greasy (a common mistake) but the accompanying adobo seasoned flank steak churrasco was perfectly cooked to order – medium rare in our case.  The churrasco cut is by no means the most tender cut of beef but like sirloin, what it lacks in tenderness it makes up for in flavor. This churrasco was very juicy (it is a sin to overcook and dry out a churrasco – or any steak for that matter, and to order it well done is also a sin!) It was a good foil to the mofongo and the two tangoed well on the tongue.

For the second entree… well there was no second entree. The two of us could not finish the first because we were simply too full. This is no reflection on the quality, the food was great, the service was friendly and efficient and the environment was fun and inviting. In fact, they had closed by the time we left two hours later and politely waited quietly until we got the hint that they wanted to go home. I started to get the point when they had turned off all the lights in the kitchen. This was not until after we did find room to split an order of their guava cheesecake ($4.00). The cheesecake was creamy and unlike most casual restaurants – even unlike many higher end restaurants, I think it just might have been made there on the spot, or at least purveyed by a local gourmet bakery. The red guava glaze though was so sweet and tangy that it would have probably made a kitchen sponge taste good.

Two of us had a belt busting good dinner with great bottle of wine for under $50 excluding tip. Jimmy’z is a great place and the only real gripe I can think of other than they need to do a better job of keeping their menus in sync is that they totally busted my diet. Jimmy’z Kitchen Wynwood  is open from 11am until 10 on weekdays and until 11 on weekends. It is a fun, casual place serving ample portions of superb, well prepared food.

I’ll be back.

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