Last weekend we met up with Josh and his parents at Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine (attention: website has auto-play music) in Minneapolis for dinner. I have never had any real Caribbean food aside from the usual grilled meats dusted with jerk seasoning but after hearing that Marla’s offered menu items which were spiced with ghost peppers I knew I had to be there soon to see just how well they could cook with the world’s hottest pepper.
We arrived early, at around 5 PM, and Josh’s mother remarked how if she hadn’t been told that the space was a restaurant she would have mistaken it for a store of some sort. With a multicolored marijuana leaf flag hanging in the window and some random trinkets lining the sill, I certainly understood where she was coming from. We walked in to the nearly empty restaurant and were told we could rearrange some tables to fit our group. The friendly server handed us our menus and left us to make our choices.
With none of us having ever eaten Caribbean food we were all at a loss for what to choose from. While many of the items were similar to Indian dishes (curries, stews, rice, etc) I just really didn’t know what to go with. Eventually, after asking many questions of our knowledgeable server, we chose entrees from all over the menu including cassava, their recommended “doubles” appetizer, curries, stews, and callalloo.
The cassava and “doubles” arrived first. The cassava were very simply baked with minimal seasonings. The stringy potato-like vegetable was edible but we all agreed it needed just a little more. We all added some salt and pepper and it became quite a bit better but even so it really needed to have something none of us could place. The “doubles” which are recommended by both CityPages (rated as one of their top 100 dishes) and the Heavy Table, were quite good but while they were explained as being more than the usual brand of “hot” as experienced by Minnesotans, both Josh and I agreed they weren’t even close to being spicy enough to put on a plate next to fresh habaneros as they were in the CityPages photo. We later wondered if we were supposed to order them with extra heat. It wasn’t listed as an option nor noted by the waitress when we asked for them so we didn’t know one way or the other. I suggest that if you want it hot, you better ask for it.
Our entrees were out soon after and were served family-style in dishes very similar to what we have seen at Sambol in Eagan. Josh ordered Marla’s chicken curry infused with ghost peppers. The curry tasted just as bright as it was colored. The spices were fresh and popped in your mouth just as a wave of heat came over your tongue from the ghosts. The dish was brilliant and it was clear from the melding of the flavors with the extreme heat of the ghost peppers that the chef knew how to properly heat up a dish.
My beef stew, also infused with ghost peppers, carried a deep reddish-brown color and a single whiff let you now what hot little treats had been used to cook up the beast of a dish. The meat was plentiful and tender and the hints of all the other spices were clearly evident even with the ghosts making themselves known just through the steam coming off the stew. The first bite was packed with flavor. The beef itself was incredibly tasty and the stew carried a sweet flavor reminiscent of Girvan Grille’s Ghost Wings. The flavors, aside from the ghosts, made themselves known in the first two bites–long before the jolokia peppers had their opportunity to strike. While the heat was already starting to come in its rolling waves, it hadn’t yet crashed on the shore of my tongue but by the third hunk of meat my mouth erupted into a pleasant fireball which rolled through me like a ghost freight train. After finishing off half of the stew and about 3.5 glasses of water I switched to eating bread and my wife’s entree to try and quell the fire in my mouth. I later commented on Twitter that Marla’s really did know how to cook well with heat while still being able to preserve flavor. I was impressed to say the least. While Josh’s chicken curry was definitely hot, it was no where near the heat I experienced with my dish. So if you’re looking for something a little less fiery yet get a taste of the ghost peppers, you might want to try the curries over the stews.
My wife’s chicken callalloo, described on the menu as including okra, spinach, coconut milk and spices ($12) looked like palak paneer and tasted very heavily of spinach. The Wife ordered her dish “mild” and while the ghost pepper dishes (and according to Josh’s parents, the “hot” as well) were quite tasty, her callalloo was not. I tried to like it and even after eating it for leftovers the next two days I just could not get into it. The dish, aside from the spinach flavor which really reminded me of muddied canned creamed spinach from my childhood, was basically awful. At the point it was served, nothing could have saved it except some ridiculous heat to drown out the overpowering spinach flavor but they really could have done more with the coconut milk and/or okra to even it out some more. So while Marla’s knows how to cook well with heat, it seems they have a lot of work to do in making sure dishes that come mild have flavor–at least with the callalloo.
Overall, being that I love spicy foods as much as I do and it’s clear that Marla’s knows how to make stuff really hot, I would most definitely go back to try some more ghost pepper infused dishes. But as I mentioned, if you’re not into the hot stuff, you may want to find something other than the callalloo as they don’t seem able to flavor their dishes well otherwise.
Have you ever eaten at Marla’s Caribbean Cafe in Minneapolis? If so what did you think? What is your favorite dish to order? How spicy do you get your meals? Would you ever consider going to “Marla’s Hot” and getting smacked in the face with the ghost peppers? What do you think of their website? Whatever you have to say about Marla’s in Minneapolis go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine
3761 Bloomington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55407
See all pictures from Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine on Flickr here.