Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar – Stillwater, MN

D.Rough has had a hankering for Caribbean cuisine for a few weeks and we thought we’d try a new place. We love the Minneapolis authentic offerings of Marla’s and Harry Singh’s, but I had my eye on this pirate-themed restaurant and bar out in Stillwater. She finally caved, especially after we found out Monday’s are all day happy hour (food and drinks in the bar only).

The restaurant is in a brick building with a shared hallway space with a bunch of retail shops. It’s easy to drive past, but if you know it is the first building on the right-hand side of the road when you enter Stillwater (like I’m telling you right now, so you’ll know), it’s really easy to find.

The menu has a LOT of things on it. Enough to cause you to change your mind at least ten times. We started with the happy hour menu to figure out what we should focus our attention on. We started with some rum based drinks (it’s a pirate bar, after all). I got the Sunsplash (rum and pineapple juice punch) and D.Rough got the Cabin Boy (some juice and four various shots of rum). We couldn't tell which one was which, as shown in the photos below. This place has a huge list (like in a fancy wine-list sort of book) of rums. You need to try them all.

We had conch and corn fritters in mind when we sat down. But the server talked us out of them by using this line, “those aren’t on the happy hour menu. Order something on the happy hour menu and when you come back (you’ll be back, I promise), you can order the fritters since they’re always regular price anyway.” Not sure of the logic, but for some reason, we bought into his strategy. We ordered a couple of jerk chicken wings (medium jerk spice-level on the house sauce) and two jerk pork tacos. That was just until we could figure out what we really wanted to eat for dinner. Thankfully, it didn’t take too terribly long. We went with the BBQ combo – Ribs, Beef Brisket, and Pork Shoulder. We went with the hot jerk seasoning on everything. We assumed the medium jerk spice would be too mild for us. And for our two sides, we got the beer battered plank fries and the roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized pork and sausage.

And because I’m a 5 year old, I ordered the full bar-sized portion of mac and cheese, complete with all the toppings – which I will explain in a second.

The jerk pork tacos looked pretty darn good. They were larger than I expected them to be and they were actually much more full of pork than I expected them to be. The flavor was good but not too spicy. It was a really good sort of pulled/shredded pork with some cilantro, crumbly Chihuahua cheese, lettuce, and some tomatoes on top, all wrapped in a soft flour shell. I’m glad we tried these. Not spicy, but quite good (and probably more filling than I expected them to be.

The jerk wings were actually fantastic. It’s hard to see them in the photo, since they look BLACK, but they’re not burned. That’s just the sauce on them. Great meat flavor and the spice was pretty awesome. These were D.Rough’s favorite part of the meal. I’m not kidding. We should have gotten more of these.

The combo came out and we were ready to dig into it. The first thing I noticed was the cornbread with candied jalapenos. I saw it on the menu as a side, but didn’t know it came with the meal. It was delicious.

The roasted sweet potatoes were also really delicious. There was more meat than sweet potatoes, but I didn’t mind at all. Delicious chunks of various meats intertwined with large chunks of sweet potato. I might need to figure out how to make this one.

The beer battered plank fries were much better than I expected them to be. I’m not a huge fan of fries all the time, but these were quite good. The batter absolutely made them. Well done.

The pork shoulder was shredded (not what I was expecting, honestly), but you could tell was seething with spices. Remember, we decided we didn’t have a typical Minnesota palate, so we went with the spiciest jerk sauce they had. D.Rough took one bite and suggested maybe we should have gotten one level down. Seriously, this stuff was tear jerking and sweat creating spicy. But I will also say this – it is some of the best flavored seasoning I’ve had. Especially on pork shoulder. It’s even made with imported pimento wood, so it’s actually authentic jerk flavor. So the strategy is basically take a bite and then make sure you have some of the sides to help your taste buds reform. Repeat. Seriously hot, so if that’s your thing, get it. But also, REALLY good flavor on them. We put back plenty of this meat.

The same thing went for the beef brisket – shredded and cooked in hot jerk sauce. Also incredibly flavorful but painfully hot. I honestly loved it. It was pushing the bounds of my heat tolerance, but I kept eating it. You just had to pace yourself and add some sides to get the heat levels timed right. Once you figure that out, you will be home free. The jerk sauce here is really awesome.

We needed more drinks, about half way through these spicy meats. I got a Dirty Wench – passion fruit and mango sparkling rum-ita. D.Rough got a Gringo Margarita – gold tequila, orange liqueur and scratch sour. Both wonderful. Both refreshing.

The spare ribs on the plate didn’t seem to be as hot as the other two meats. Maybe we had blown out our taste buds already. Hahaha. But the meat was smoky and sweet. Just chewy enough it didn’t fall off the bone, but you didn’t have to fight it off the bones. Whatever seasoning they used on these ribs was about perfect. They weren’t nearly as spicy as the other two meats. Not the best ribs in the Twin Cities (see the Bar-B-Quest 2013 reviews to find out who is), but they did a darn good job on them.

And finally, the Mac and cheese I ordered. I knew from reading some reviews how to order this dish. You get all the fun accoutrements put on it. Bacon – check! Roasted green chilies – check! Cheetos – check!

Yup, you heard me right. Cheetos. When they brought it out to our table, we got some oohs and aaaahs from the fellow diners who didn’t know this thing existed. It was really fun presentation and added some unusual but great crunch to the mac and cheese. Both D.Rough and I thought the mac and cheese was going to be pretty standard issue, but it’s one of the better ones in the Twin Cities. It’s homemade with actual cheddar and the addition of some (but not too much) of the chilies and bacon made it even better.

I really liked this place. This place is different than the other Caribbean places in the Twin Cities – those places are very authentic and the people are from the Caribbean. This place is more focused on the BBQ and the meats, but have done a fantastic job of slapping the authentic jerk flavors throughout the menu. The servers were nice, the ambience is pirate-y but not too over the top. It’s kind of the boat-life crowd since it’s walkable from the docs. Not too expensive, but still great quality. Fun rum drinks and mojitos. Patio in the front for dining. A separate pirate-themed bar in the back (yup, business in front, party in back!).

This place is worth the trip.

Top 5 things about Smalley’s Caribbean BBQ and Pirate Bar
1. Jerk Pork Shoulder and Beef Brisket – I like them both equally
2. Jerk wings (according to D.Rough)
3. Mac and Cheese
4. Sweet Potato and Caramelized Pork and Sausage
5. Great menu, happy hour menu, rum selection, and beer list

Bottom 5 things
1. The Pirate Bar was shutting down when we left. Or was it opening up? Either way, the door was locked and they were sweeping up.
2. Sooo difficult to decide what I wanted from the menu. Even the salads looked good
3. I wish I knew what the chalkboard behind the bar meant. I should have just asked
4. It can get loud in there during Monday night football with the happy hour crowd
5. I’ve never seen a website more difficult to get to than this one


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