The joint was rockin, that's for sure--when "Kingston 11," the new Nigel Jones's Jamaican Restaurant, took over the Guerilla Cafe last Thursday evening for its lively debut. People were lined up at the door at 6 p.m. and it stayed that way well past 9.
The food was great, but for me the music, beautiful people, and party atmosphere were equally great. And this is only the beginning. Nigel's goal is to turn every Friday at Guerilla Cafe into a Kingston 11 evening where "all folks can enjoy our changing food offerings and feel like they are in a Caribbean kitchen with friends enjoying the food, music and lively scene."
Growing up in Kingston, Nigel's cooking career started at age 10 when he complained to his grandmother about the food choices they had for an evening meal. She said to him, "if you don't like what we are having for dinner, then you need to learn how to cook for yourself." His grandmother then proceeeded to give him cooking lessons and from that moment on he was obsessed.
The influence of the Jamaican world on his culinary development was enormous, "food was everywhere, constantly in a pot being cooked at home, a freind's house, from street vendors to the highest level and priced food. And it all seemed good to me."
Nigel has no formal training as a chef, but this hardly seems to matter as you'd be hard-pressed to find better Jamaican food anywhere else. His jerk chicken, pictured above with sweet potato fries, is marinated overnight with just the right amount of seasoning or "jerk" to give it a kick without knocking you out. It is then perfectly grilled on a smoke grill.
My favorite dish was the plantains with black bean sauce and sour cream. The plantains were firm on the outside, and gooey on the inside; the beans spicy and the sour cream cold and refreshing. I imagine the plantains and jerk chicken will become mainstays of the Kingston 11 menu. In fact, Nigel confirmed this to me in an email concerning the menu for this coming week.
"This week (Friday) we will offer a pumpkin-carrot-ginger soup along with salt-fish fritters and plantain dishes for starts. Additionally we will have a curry shrimp and roasted ribeye steak along with the jerk chicken for the 3 main course dishes."
I'd strongly urge anyone who missed last week's opening to make a point of coming to Guerilla Cafe on Friday night. The fun starts at 6 pm. Or as they say in Jamaica, a Kingston 11 night is "bad like yaz."
Guerilla Cafe is located at 1620 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, near Cedar Street. For reservations or more information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org