When it’s hot, community kicks it in the kitchen.
Family, too. There is Cousin Pinky’s braised oxtail with butter beans, and Grandma Sylvia “Baby Lue” Jones’ Kingston style jerk chicken.
Tomme Beevas is throwing a party, and everyone is invited.
Tomme wants you to feel at home in his Pimento Jamaican Kitchen, to come hungry and eat happy. The celebratory vibe is evident, and not just because of the rum bar next door or the stout bottles of Red Stripe beer in the cooler.
Even the flavors at Pimento are animated - like loquacious neighbors with distinct accents, and cadences that overlap and infuse at a party: curry and coconut; clove and allspice; cabbage and bright vinegar; vanilla caramel plantains and smoky, slow-grilled sweet onions. Tomme’s sauces run the gamut as well: hot enough to kick or kind enough to keep up MN Nice.
The colors of Jamaica (it’s heat and energy) envelop the place. The walls of Pimento are turmeric yellow. On warm days, the garage doors at the front of the shop are opened wide. Potted palms rustle on the sidewalk and boisterous eaters are laughing outside, talking to be heard over thumping, piped-in Reggae.
Seems this is the place to be.
“Minnesotans are foodies,” Tomme asserts. “They are well traveled, they experiment. They try what they have tried abroad: French food, Vietnamese. There is big tourism to Jamaica in January and February, and Minnesotans like to keep that connection alive. They get that here. If you’ve been, you know.”
Tomme has long cooked, learning from his grandmother, “The General,” in her kitchen in West Kingston, Jamaica. After years in the US – collecting college and graduate degrees and a luminous corporate career – Tomme, having earned the title “Young General,” has returned to his cooking roots.
His start as a restaurateur was unconventional, but patently American: Tomme and his partners won a television reality show, Food Court Wars. That honor – and it’s prize earning them one year’s rent at the Burnsville Mall food court, established Pimento as a legit business, and led them to a stand alone site on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue, along “Eat Street.”
Eat Street is where people come to, ah, eat. Tomme’s neighbors on Nicollet (his culinary sisters and brothers-from-other-mothers) probably learned cooking from their grandmothers, too, in their home countries. Here you’ll find food from Mexico, Thailand, Germany, Vietnam, Greece, Malaysia, Italy, and America; street food, breakfast food, fermented food, vegan food, Tex-Mex, diner fare, donuts, a gastropub, even a pedal-pub. There are retail shops with spices, rices, noodles, seeds, sauces, meats, leaves, pastries, produce, salsas, curries, and condiments. This stretch of sidewalk is a placemaker’s dream: interesting street life, intoxicating smells, a palpable hustle, engaged entrepreneurs, and economic vitality. In a word: Verve.
At first, Tomme wasn’t sure about opening Pimento on Eat Street. “I resisted because I didn’t want to be branded an ‘ethnic’ restaurant,” he admits.
He’s come around, though, and leveraged “Brand Jamaica” to expand beyond Pimento’s primary locale. Tomme opened a Jamaican rum bar and dance joint next door, and a back patio is now open (weather permitting) for live Jamaican music. “I realized quickly,” says Tomme, “that Eat Street was waiting for us.“ With it’s established and adventurous clientele, Tomme knew he had high expectations to meet. “At Eat Street, you better bring it!”
Pimento’s lively island vibe transports patrons. The kitchen is hopping, the music loud, the staff diverse, and Tomme invites his guests to have an experience, if not a complete conversion to the Jamaican way.
The words “Mi Deh Yah” hang from Pimento’s wall, meaning “I’m here!” and establishing your place in this good company. “You are home here,” Tomme says with a dazzling and infectious smile. “You are family.”
If the language isn’t your ticket in, the food just might be.
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Photo credits: Tracy Nordstrom & Pimento Jamaican Kitchen