Do-overs usually mean something went wrong, but sometimes do-overs work out for the best. Like when you take your family to a new Jamaican restaurant and everyone orders jerk chicken or shrimp, except for your mom, who gets … wait for it … the hamburger.
Come on, people, it’s Jamaica. Live a little! Pimenta has so many exotic offerings, I wanted to try them all. So I went back a week later for a delectable do-over.
Growing up in Jamaica, Ray Simmonds, who owns the Caroline Street restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, learned from his mother to prepare island specialties, then tossed in a bit of American cooking and added his own special flair.
Enter Pimenta. Yes, a pimiento is a red pepper that, among other things, gets snipped into bits and stuffed into green olives. But Pimenta takes its name from pimenta dioica, aka allspice, an essential ingredient in the pervasive—and spicy—Jamaican seasoning called “jerk.” With hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and cloves (hence its name), allspice is like a game of hopscotch for your taste buds—wild and racy yet pure and delicate. And so is Pimenta.
With blue and pink walls, the place feels like a waterside sunset. Add some Bob Marley and breathtaking photos of iconic spots like White River and Treasure Beach, and you feel yourself drifting away. Ropey, lantern-like chandeliers add an oceanic touch. Playful headings like “Pon di River” for seafood and “Di Main Tings” for regular entrées give the menu a laid-back feel.
Both visits combined, we tried a trio of starters, including Jamaican Patties ($3 each), an inescapable snack on the island. The flaky pouches of dough stuffed with spicy, finely ground beef (chicken and veggie varieties are also available) were tasty. Kingston Egg Rolls ($8 per pair), filled with cabbage, and slivers of carrots, and green and red peppers, were crispy if somewhat bland. The Sailing Buffalo Wings ($8 for a hearty plateful)—traditional buffalo wings with a Caribbean kick—were incredible. A peppery start leads to a buttery finish and a tingle that clings to your lips. You’ll be glad for the side of ultra-chunky blue cheese.
At our first “all-jerk” outing, the Momma’s Jerk Chicken ($14), a couple pieces of poultry (we got thighs and legs) with that famously fiery Jamaican concoction of spices—garlic, cayenne, paprika and more—was hot but good. The Jerk Shrimp ($18) were perfectly cooked but almost too blazing to eat. My mother enjoyed her uninspired order, the hamburger. I took a chance, choosing the Oxtail ($16). Cooked for hours with garlic and scotch bonnet peppers, its close-to-the-bone richness of flavor had me digging into the holes of the bone for the marrow.
Our do-over needed to double up on that kind of island adventure, so I closed my eyes, said a prayer and ordered the Chicken Foot Soup ($6). I’d done my research, learning online how to scrape the meat from the tiny toe bones with my teeth. But, alas, Pimenta doesn’t put an actual foot in its soup. Chock-full of carrots, super-dense dumplings and chunks of chicken, it made me feel warm and full. The fat and bones convey, adding flavor, but if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing, this selection isn’t for you.
The Escovitch ($21, steamed or stewed), a whole cod—face and all—in a red and green-pepper blanket, offers a bounty of white, flaky meat if you don’t mind your dinner staring at you while you work at it. The Curry Goat ($15), uncharacteristically tender, was laden with the musky, exotic essence of cumin and turmeric.
Sides ($3 or $4) include Jasmine White Rice, with a just-this-side-of-sushi-rice texture and a thin-as-a-ribbon florally flavor; Vibes Mac N Cheese, which claims a complex, smoky taste; and Dunn’s River Beans, a moist mash of legumes with thick garlic chunks. Slices of scallions and shreds of carrots add a fresh-and-sweet zest to many of Pimenta’s dishes.
The night we ordered dessert ($6 or $7), they were in short supply. With no Key Lime Pie, Jamaican Rum Cake, or topping for Cheesecake with Tropical Fruits. We “settled” for St. Mary Triple Chocolate Cake and Coconut Pie with Myers Rum. Both were delicious.
Pimenta offers brunch, with specialties like Jamaican jerk chicken omelets, luscious-looking tropical drinks, and coffee and ice cream at a separate shop right next door.
Now that our do-over is done, I think I’ll start planning another do-over.