Friday, December 3, 2010

Now serving gourmet plantain chips!

I can't tell you how excited I am to announce we have switched our plantain chips to a major upgrade. These are the chips we serve with all of our lunch sandwiches.

The new gourmet plantain chips are made by a small company in New Jersey. They're thin and crispy (compared to the thick, crunchy plantain chips we were serving before), all natural, and lightly salted with sea salt from the South American coast.

They're my personal favorite of the plantain chips we've been sampling and we think you'll agree, they're a great addition to the lunch menu (at no extra cost to you).

Ingredients are simply: plantains, safflower oil, and sea salt. Nothing else. Oh yea, and they're gluten free, too. Can't wait to hear what you think of the new chips!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Step by Step Photos: How to cut a Breadfruit

How to cut a breadfruit...

But first, what is a breadfruit?

If you read the St. Paul Pioneer Press restaurant section, you may have caught a recent article on unique fries in the Twin Cities where food critic Kathie Jenkins interviewed Tony and several other area chefs to talk about their non-potato fries.
Step 1. Cut off the top & bottom.

Our new breadfruit fries hit the menu this fall, but don't feel bad if you have no idea what a breadfruit is. I sure didn't. I grew up in Minnesota. I know about bread and fruit; but breadfruit? Well, I had a vague recollection of it from a trip to Puerto Rico a few years back when Tony showed me all sorts of produce I had never heard of.
Step 2. Cut off the skin in strips.

To refresh my memory, he brought one home and excitedly cut it open. "Smell this!" he said, "Doesn't it smell so refreshing? You just can't describe it!"

Step 3. Cut in half and admire the weird looking center.

Step 4. Cut lengthwise in quarters.

He was right. There really are no smells citrucy and somehow also like fresh baked bread, especially when it's cooked. It's a big round fruit that grows on trees and is starchy like a potato or plantain and slightly sweet. It's popular in the Caribbean and usually served sauteed, boiled, or baked.
Step 5. Cut out the core and all porous portions of the flesh.

The outside looks like snakeskin & the inside looks weirdly porous like bread. Cut off the skin off and porous part, slice into fries, and there you have it...breadfruit fries! Well, OK, there are a few more steps like tossing in adobo spice & deep frying & something with pumpkinseed oil & serving them with avocado dipping cream, but at least you can see how we cut fries from a breadfruit.

Step 6. Slice into 1/4" - 1/8" strips and prepare as desired.

And if you've had our new fries, then maybe you can help me describe the taste.

Our finished breadfruit fries.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Colorful details

More color on the way! We're super excited about this seemingly "little thing" but we've finally placed an order for new dishes after weeks of scouring china catalogs, testing factory samples (maybe you've eaten on them!), and narrowing down our above is a sneak preview of what our new dishes will look like. Along with the new dishes (plates), will also come some new dishes (food), as Tony's working on some new additions to the menu.

Being this is our first restaurant venture, we had limited funds. Being creative and resourceful was about the only way we could get this thing off the ground. A major part of this was the decision to purchase a location that was previously a restaurant. A place that would already have furnishings, equipment and all that little stuff that adds up to buy new. Part of that business purchase included things like the chairs, tables, and the dishes. Sure, they're sturdy. They work, and probably worked for the past two restaurants operating in this location. And, hey, they did help us get our dream off the ground! But they didn't quite fit our vision. The old white plates were lacking the color, class, and whimsy we wanted.

With all the "business of running a business" we have to do on a day to day basis, this is the fun stuff. Unable to choose just one shape, we decided to go with some curved triangular plates, some circles, and some squares...each in various colors that'll pop on the black tables, tie into our decor, and best show-off the food presented on them.

So now that we've been in business for a little while, we're starting to be able to focus more on these little details that help make your meal special, different & memorable. Watch for more fun details popping up this winter as I get in to do more painting & decorating. Who knows, I might even finish the mural this winter. :-)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We will miss you, Chef Gil Gaitan

A beloved teacher and mentor; Tony's favorite professor at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Gil Gaitan passed away on Monday at the age of 57.

With sadness yesterday, Tony called with the news and reminisced about how Chef Gaitan was in Caribe recently and he was still as passionate as ever about teaching. Always teaching, and loving what he did. He was always joking, and smiling, almost giddy with excitement like a child when he talked about cooking.

Measuring to make a huge batch of gingerbread

Back in 2003/2004 when Tony was attending school, he learned of Chef Gaitan's interest in food art. Tony brought in some pictures of some artsy pumpkins I had carved & airbrushed to share with Chef, who later invited Tony and I to join him on a weekend in December at the school to make some food art of our own: ginger bread houses from scratch.

Assembling the houses

From what I understand, Chef Gaitan came in every year on his days off to make several houses that he would donate at Christmas time. That particular weekend he taught Tony and I how to make and bake the dough for the walls, how to make pulled sugar flowers and candy canes, the icing for holding it all together, and the meringue snow. He sent me home with copies of recipes and templates and I had a blast finishing my ginger bread houses at home.

Chef showing us how to make candy canes

One of my finished houses at home

I remember upon meeting him, thinking it was generous of him (or maybe a little crazy?!) to take so much of his free time to do this each year, making a dozen plus houses to give to charities. But it didn't take me long to notice he was a how he acted, and later in how he spoke of Bible studies and his church.

Later in the spring and on another occasion, I joined Chef Gaitan on a weekend day to learn how to make Easter eggs out of sugar–the big, hollowed out kind with a sugary scene inside.

Pressing sugar into the moulds

Chef & I discussing airbrush techniques

Airbrushing the sugar eggs

I brought in my airbrush & we exchanged tips and tricks. He showed us how to make roses and lilies out of frosting (he sure made it look easy!) and other techniques of sugar egg creation and assembly that I was as excited to learn, as he was to teach. Though a couple flowers have broken off since then, I still display my egg each year at Easter.

One of the eggs we made

I was blessed to know Chef Gaitan, even if only through a handful of encounters, but also to know him through Tony, who spoke of him all the time while attending school and often over the years since. There's no doubt he was an integral part of shaping Tony's career in cooking. He will be missed. And he will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Visitation is this evening. More info and obituary.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Bad Review & A Pleasant Surprise

Tony called me today pretty moved by the gestures of a customer and an employee. A pleasant surprise, to say the least.

The gestures being letters they each wrote in response to a negative review recently published about Caribe. The paper, being The Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper. The article being the words of the "Queen of Cuisine," Carla Waldemar. To Southside Pride's credit, they published both of the letters in response to her review, which is how Tony and I found out about it today. A customer brought in the paper to show Tony.

The customer is Carmen, who we did not know before opening Caribe, but she has since become one of our favorite regulars. She's Puerto Rico born and proud of it. The employee is one of our cooks, Katy, who unknowingly to us, also wrote the editor, not knowing we had just seen the review for the first time last week, also brought to our attention by Carmen, who was outraged.

Here is the review, followed by the letters in response:
The letter to the editor from Carmen

The letter to the editor from Katy

To say we are humbled is an understatement. Not by the article, but by those who stepped up on our behalf, without our knowledge. Your words far outweigh the insulting review and we are truly grateful for your kindness and support.

And as far as the review goes, we're not necessarily concerned with the negativity of it. We can take criticism and try to learn and grow from it. But the writer's decision to take it a step further and personally insult Tony, the waitress (or was it her grandma?), and make claims that weren't even accurate is what bothered us. It seemed her biggest complaint was that the food didn't properly meet her misconstrued expectations of Caribbean cuisine.

Was everything really that bad? And truly, if everything except the dessert and beer was so unacceptable, why didn't she say something at the time and allow Tony or our staff to correct the problem? Really...if we make a mistake, we want you to let us know. If something wasn't cooked properly, that is a problem. But if something wasn't as spicy as you thought it should be, then the problem is not with the food.

Ms. Waldemar, we invite you to return. We really do want you, and everyone who visits, to enjoy their meal. We value your feedback...just refrain from insults.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What's with the Cuban Sandwich lately?

Tony's never been one to follow trends in food. In fact, he tends to avoid them. And we can never really predict how dishes will sell until we throw them out there and see what sticks. Whether it's because Caribe is new or small, or situated where it is, we seem to go through cycles of certain things being popular one week, the next week another thing is selling well and so on. And it's been totally unpredictable, too, with the exception of the Doubles, which are selling like crazy since a recent Citypages article raved about them.

So what's the hot seller lately besides the Doubles? Our Grilled Cuban Sandwich.

A quick search of the history of the Cubano, or Cuban Sandwich, will tell you it's been around for a while. It's popular in southern Florida & Miami where many Cubans have settled. A traditional Cubano is usually made with Cuban bread, pork, ham, cheese & pickle, smashed together in a sandwich press (usually a flat grill, not panini style with ridges) and grilled until heated through.

It wasn't long after we took over Jay's Cafe, just before we changed over to Caribe, when Tony began serving his Grilled Cuban Sandwich, a traditionally prepared Cuban sandwich (his is with roasted pulled pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on Cuban bread, served with plantain chips and pineapple mango coleslaw).

Shortly after Caribe had officially opened this spring, I heard Latin sounding music over the radio and a commercial for Panera Bread company's Cuban Chicken Panini.

And just the other day, while listening to the radio while driving, what did I hear on the radio? Yet another interlude of latin music leading into a commercial. What's this? A commercial for Subway's new Cuban pulled pork sub.

And suddenly we can't seem to sell enough Cuban sandwiches. They're the "hot" thing now at Caribe. Hmmm...Tony may try to avoid trends, but maybe that's because he'd rather start them?

OK, we're a dinky new restaurant and we can't claim to have started the trend, but it's nice to see his menu items doing well with Minnesotans. And I guess we'll take the free advertising from Subway & Panera, putting it in people's heads, if only subconsciously, to eat a Cuban sandwich. And they are eating them at Caribe. A lot of them.

So let it be known, Caribe served a Cuban sandwich before the big chain places did! And, for that matter, If I'm not mistaken, we are one of only two restaurants in Minnesota who serve Doubles. Keep your eyes peeled....we predict doubles just might start popping up on more MN menus soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Authentic Caribbean food. What is it? Should it matter?

If a pimento tree falls in the woods and a chef doesn't use it, would his jerk not be authentic?

Time and time again, Tony and I have had the same discussion about food: does "authentic" matter? Who decides whether or not a dish is authentic? And how does one even define it? Especially Caribbean food, which was born out of so many cultures and varies not only from island to island, but cook to cook. Mind you this is coming from a Caribbean native who cooks and sells Caribbean food.

And who really cares?

Obviously some of you care, as we had a couple folks recently, on separate occasions enlighten us with their wisdom. Yes, they informed us that our food was not, in fact, authentic. We were not "Puerto Rican" enough for one woman, and not "Trinidadian" enough for one guy.

Maybe to alleviate any confusion we should change our name to: "Caribe Caribbean-Inspired Recipes by a Cook Who Doesn't Care if His Creations are Entirely Authentic as Long as they Taste Good Bistro."

Our restaurant does not claim to be authentic Caribbean on our website. And although we do sell some traditional dishes you might find on the dinner table in a typical Puerto Rican home or a traditional sandwich you might find at a Cuban food stand, every recipe has Tony's unique twist to it. He does what he thinks our customers will enjoy, whether or not it's "authentic." Taste is his first priority.

Even though we don't have pimento trees chopped down and imported so the green wood can be used to grill our Jerk Chicken over in an earth pit out back, Tony's version of Jamaican Jerk has gotten some Jamaicans excited. And even though he serves tostones topped with mashed avocado, he continues to get compliments from Puerto Ricans telling him his food tastes like home. Does that make it authentic? Depends on who's mom's cooking we're comparing it to.

Is "authentic" the way a dish was made 200 years ago when it was invented? Or the way it's served today in the country of origin? Ah, but what country did it really originate from? Caribbean cuisine grew out of the influence of several cultures including French, West African, British, American (we brought beans, corn, chili peppers), East Indian (curry), Chinese (rice), Spanish (plantains, fruit trees), Danish, and Portuguese (cod).

I suppose not long ago the islander food snobs of yesteryear complained that the very dishes we speak of today were not authentic at the time. After all, those early "authentic" Caribbean dishes were merely creative concoctions using techniques and ingredients borrowed from other countries, new to them at the time.

History aside, Tony sums it up well, "The only thing that should matter when you go out to eat is if the food tastes good to you. It shouldn't matter if it's authentic. What matters is if you like it."

But what do we know. We're not authentic.


When has "authentic" mattered to you? Do you have examples of your own?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Don't overthink it - Creativity in the Kitchen.

As the one who's home while Tony's at the restaurant every day, I love hearing about how he runs the kitchen, especially his creative process. Being an artist myself, I can relate in that more often than not, my best ideas are the ones I don't over-think. The ones from my "gut." The creative cooking process is much like that with art. Sometimes the best ideas are the ones done on the fly.

Not all dishes, sauces and sides on our menu were carefully formulated months before we opened Caribe. In fact, some of our most popular items Tony came up with, on a whim, right before we opened. I admit being a little nervous when we'd discuss the (future) Caribe menu and he'd say things like, "I'll come up with something, I'm not worried about it."

Many of you took part in our menu survey we ran months before even finding a location, so you saw some of Tony's ideas early on. But many of the recipes themselves were not at all figured out or even tested! Tony's jerk chicken sandwich that got a great review by CityPages this month, was a sandwich he had never made before we started the restaurant.

When he needed something to serve with our lunch sandwiches, Tony came up with his pineapple mango coleslaw with a hint of cilantro & just the right amount of "kick." It is as popular as the sandwiches.

Pineapple Mango coleslaw served with the BLT and other lunch sandwiches

When the Chicharrones needed a dipping sauce, Tony came up with the jerk barbecue sauce. A unique blend of ingredients that might surprise you. Time and time again we hear from customers how they either want that sauce "on everything" or that we should bottle and sell it.

Chicharrones (chicken drumsticks and wings) with jerk barbecue sauce

And the Caribe Eggs Benedict was an entire dish, not planned until Tony got in the kitchen and thought it up one day. Now our signature breakfast dish and a good seller.

Caribe Eggs Benedict. Poached eggs on roti, sauteed curried spinach, sweet potato,
tomatoes, onions, & chick peas. Topped with Creole hollandaise.

And the creativity will continue as Tony has the staff come up with our omelets of the day and other specials on occasion. It only seems fair to pass along some creative freedom to our staff, as it was the previous cooking jobs where Tony was allowed some creative freedom that helped him grow as a chef.

How about you? Have you come up with some great recipes under pressure or on the fly?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Chef wants to meet you

It's been about two and a half weeks since opened our doors and I can't tell you what a thrill it is (and relief, considering the mountain of debt we amassed in this crazy venture of ours!) to not only see people coming in day after day, but the same people already coming back with their friends.

Considering these long days, working out the kinks, fine tuning the menu, hiring new cooks, teaching the servers the new menu, serving larger than anticipated crowds with not enough staff, I think Tony and the staff (All of you! You know who you are!) are doing a fantastic job. Is everything perfect? Of course not. We are learning as we go. But when issues arise, we respond, fix it, do better next time. All in all, I keep hearing how people are liking the food and plan to come back and tell their friends. But I don't think it's just the food they're liking.

Tony came home tonight and as if to make a revolutionary discovery, tells me (something I've been saying since day one, thank you very much!), "Ya know, people really like it when I come out and say hi."

I think it's finally sinking in, how much that adds to the dining experience. It's nothing to Tony, he loves to socialize and meet new people. Any of you who know him already know this and are probably smiling and nodding. You know how he is. He is in his element when he can come out and chat with our guests. Even when it's busy, he tries to make rounds in the dining room.

But I was thinking about that more tonight. Trying to think back to all the restaurants Tony and I have eaten at over the years. All of our dating years plus the past 7 years we've been married, and I can honestly say I cannot recall a time when the cook, let alone a chef or owner of a restaurant came to our table to greet us and ask us how our meal was.

Sure, we'd get the occasional manager of a place doing rounds, which is always nice. But there's just something special about the person who prepared and cooked your food (and, in this case, the guy who drove to the bakery to buy that bread and picked up the fresh fish that day) genuinely wanting to say hello, thank you for coming in, and wondering what you thought of your meal. It's nice Tony's finally seeing how much that means to people. Although the social person he is, he'd do it anyway. He's just that kind of guy.

And what you've been giving him back is what's making it a pleasure to be in business. And I don't mean just dollars. The first thing Tony told me when he came home tonight was, "the customers are just so gracious." He's so humbled by all of you. And I get to hear the stories. Since we opened we've had people in from Puerto Rico (and a lady from Ponce, Tony's home town), a couple who drove from Wisconsin just to have dinner at Caribe, a woman who came in and later brought her Jamaican husband in for their anniversary (who loved Tony's Jerk Chicken, by the way. There's no greater compliment than when Caribbean natives approve of the food.). We've had regulars from when it was Jay's Cafe returning. We have people from the neighborhood come in regularly, some several times a week. And even had a local radio personality come in one day, a personal favorite of Tony and me, who's name I won't mention, as he's not one to want to be in the spotlight off-air.

So thank you for all you've given back. It makes our job a pleasure.

Next on my to-do list is an online T-shirt store, since we've had so many requests for the "Caribe" shirts that Tony wears. Watch for that coming soon!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Boy, it's never felt so good to flip on that "OPEN" sign.

Finally the restaurant smells like food instead of welding and wet paint.

It's been a whirlwind of activity for us during those 16 days the restaurant was closed. I can't even begin to describe what an exhausting two plus weeks that was. The "to-do" lists that seemed to grow as fast as we were crossing things off. The unexpected turns. The expenses. The red tape. But now we're proud to say that the renovation period is over. The mess has been cleaned up. The food has been purchased and prepped. Our restaurant...our OPEN!

Yesterday after the final inspection from the fire department, we were able to open for lunch, and later dinner. Tony was so glad to finally be cooking his menu in the finished kitchen, with his new equipment.

He said it was a pretty busy day for a dreary Wednesday. We sold all of the new lunch, dinner, and appetizer menu items (except for the skirt steak, I believe...which is not bad news: people are trying the more unfamiliar food and liking it.) We had some take out orders, and anticipate a lot more with all of the new appetizers.

The dish that was getting the most attention last night was the PiƱon, a Puerto Rican layered casserole made with sliced plantains, seasoned ground beef & green beans and topped with corn relish. It's served with white rice and stewed red beans. It's one of my favorite dishes Tony's mom makes for her Sunday dinners, so it's no surprise to me that other Minnesotans are liking it. It's unique, and very good. And very Puerto Rican.

So now the to-do list is all about the details. The finishing touches. The big stuff is done and we couldn't be more happy.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Renovation: Day 5 Shiny new Metal

Being that we're in an older building, there really wasn't much "new" of anything when we took over in December. So to come in today and see walls of brand new shiny stainless steel being hung was exciting, to say the least. They had to peel off that protective film like they put on new appliances. Doesn't get more new than that!

The hood, however is used, but new to us and will do the job of sucking air out of the kitchen over the line, while the makeup air unit will return fresh air into the kitchen & dining room (so as not to create a vacuum). The hood and air unit used to have their home at Andy's Garage, a burger restaurant on University Ave. that's now closed.
So, the hood is in the building (well, currently taking up most of the floor of the kitchen). It should be hung on Mon. after an inspection.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Renovation: Day 4 Ductwork & Insulation

More painting on the mural today.

The backsplash insulation is almost done. The new code requires 4" thick insulation for fire safety. Although it's a hassle, the good thing is we'll have a pretty fire-safe kitchen when all is done.

Holes were cut into the dining room for vents that will bring fresh air into the dining room. Lots of work being done up in the ceiling, that we'll never see, once it's done! Tomorrow I think they start welding the hood & backsplash into place.

Renovation: Day 3 Crane & Color

Painting the coat rack

The mural on day 3

There's not much to photograph as far as the kitchen goes today. Tony was there at 6am this morning while the crane moved the air conditioner unit & hoisted the makeup air unit onto the roof. After that, they were done for the day and it was my turn to come in and paint. Tony and I have been tag-teaming this week, taking turns with the kids and restaurant.

Dad & I by the shocking green door

I get so excited every time we crack open another container of paint, and today was no exception. Check out our new green door! This color, appropriately named, is "shocking green." More color to go on that later. But right now it's looking like a whole new door.

Here's the new coat rack (nicely re-constructed using parts from the old coat rack by my Dad), which is now decorating the back wall, just waiting to hang up some beach towels (or swim trunks?!)...or coats, I suppose.

Painting the big Conch shell

Thanks again to my folks for coming up to help today (and putting up with my meticulous plans!). The decorative borders look great, Mom :-)

The dining room

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Renovation: Day 2 Holes & Setbacks

The mural's coming along; the fun part of this renovation. It's not the reason we're closed, but it does give me a nice chunk of time to add more color to the dining room!

Today they cut two nice skylights in the kitchen & worked on the roof. Unfortunately the nice new "windows" will have an air conditioner unit over one, and a makeup air unit over the other.

Aside from the contractor finding out today that there's some new regulation regarding the backsplash that may set us back, we found out that there is a new law requiring us to construct a guardrail on the roof because the makeup air unit will be somewhat close to the edge of the roof. The rail is for safety, should someone needs to service the unit.

The contractor asked the city inspector if he would allow us to still open, but have an additional 30 days to complete the guardrail (which was not originally worked into the time line or budget because we didn't know about this regulation) and still open the restaurant once the kitchen is complete.

Any guesses as to what the city said?

Renovation: Day 1 "Just a hood"

Today's Special: Kitchen Renovation! Yes, had you come into Caribe, today on the menu you'd find sliced ceiling tiles, insulation fluff, crispy plaster chips, and slabs of sheetrock with a side of sawdust. Mmmm.

I probably shouldn't post the following photo, but I'm frustrated.

Many dear friends, bless their hearts, have asked about the remodel and why we're closing down. And here's how the typical conversation goes. I tell them how we are closing down to have a new ventilation system put in so we can have new equipment to make our new & improved menu. And then comes their reaction: "oh, so you're just putting in a hood, huh?"

Well, yea, we are, but "just?" Just? JUST!

"Just" implies quick & easy. As if to say, "why would you close down so long to just put a hood?"

So, to my dear friends and well-meaning curious peeps who really do care, but "just" don't understand, here is what it means to have a ventilation hood put into our kitchen:

It means we have no kitchen.
It means we shut down for a week or two.
It means tens of thousands of dollars.
It means more contractors, sub-contractors and crew than I can count.
It means tearing out the kitchen ceiling.
It means a crane will be parked out front of our building tomorrow, just to hoist the makeup air unit onto the roof. A crane!
It means re-doing all of the ductwork in the kitchen ceiling.
It means electrical work has to be done by an electrician.
It means the ansul system has to be re-piped (is that even the term?) by the fire suppression guys.
It means huge holes cut into our ceiling and roof.
It means having to build additional structures on the roof to accommodate the new equipment up there.
It means new ductwork going into the dining room.
It means building an entire new ceiling over the line.
It means permits.
It means inspections.
It means mess.
And, well, I still don't understand everything they have to do, but it's a lot.

So now when someone tells you they're putting in a new hood in their restaurant, instead of saying "huh" you can say "wow, that's major work!"

Work, all worth it, of course. Because it also means when it's all done with, we can have our fryer (angels singing) and make crispy deep fried yummy things like empanadas (angels singing), bacalaitos, tostones and more.

I'll keep posting all week with progress (and mess!) photos. As well as the mural in the dining room.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Behind the scenes: our life in this restaurant start-up adventure

Everyone I run into these days asks me two questions: "How are you doing?" and "How's the Restaurant?"

Not feeling they really want the full story, I give them the usual, "good/tired/excited/exhausted."

And how is the restaurant? My answer is, "crazy!" And I mean that.

But I thought I'd take a little more time to give the long answer. How we really are. What's it really like?

Don't get me wrong, this is what we chose to do and had expected and prepared for a crazy few months (years?) in the beginning. And we've come so far! We have our restaurant! We are grateful and humbled to say the least. But how do I sum up our lives the past few months as we count down to closing day (March 29th) for the final renovations to the kitchen?

We took over in December and since then have had to learn on the job how to run a restaurant, while fixing it up, changing it to our concept, and eventually changing the name and menu. I'm certain we'll look back on this time in our lives some day and say, "how in the world did we do it?" Until then, I don't have much time to contemplate. We're too busy getting this thing off the ground.

So how are we doing? How's the restaurant?

Here's how it goes in a typical week for Tony and me...


He works at the restaurant every day now. Business is slow at the moment, so he puts in the overtime. He leaves home at 6:30am, and returns around 9:00pm. Sundays and Mondays he's home closer to 3pm. When he's not prepping food, cooking it, managing staff, or visiting with customers, he is the one driving around town picking up bread from the baker, produce from the co-op, ice from the liquor store, food from various vendors, register tape from the store, meeting with the cleaning contractor, HVAC contractor, the ceiling contractor, the city health inspector, the painter, the electrical contractor, the landlord, salesmen giving him pitches as to why their company is the best choice for [fill-in-the-blank], or whoever has requested "just a moment" of his time that day. He's making bank deposits, making decisions, making phone calls when such-n-such breaks down/clogs up/runs out, writing checks, paying bills, paying bills, paying bills, (and a few more bills), logging sales, logging sales tax, logging liquor sales, filing receipts, cutting costs, cutting shifts, cutting potatoes, cutting fish, shoveling snow, sweeping the sidewalk, taking out the trash, answering phone calls from everything to charities asking for donations, scams (oh yes, scams!), solicitors, vendors, the payroll company, and of course, his wife!

When he gets home we can talk about our day, talk out our plans for the next day, business that will need to be taken care of and he's off to bed. Whatever we forget to discuss, I add to his pile of papers and post-it notes to bring to work the next day.

The best part of his day at the restaurant is usually talking with happy customers. It's immensely satisfying for him to cook food and have people like it. I wonder how he has energy to even do that, with all it takes to run the business end of things.


On the days we're closed for dinner, when Tony gets home, I rush out the door, stop at Menards or Michaels for supplies and to go work on painting the restaurant. That is my break from being "Mommy" each week. When I'm painting I can just be "artist." And when I'm gone, it's Tony's precious time to just be "Daddy" and the girls love it.

But when I'm home the day is like that of most moms who stay at home with their kids. Three little girls ages 4, 2, and 7 months keep me on my toes, needing me every few minutes. I'm making breakfast, making lunch, making dinner, cleaning up, playing, disciplining, teaching, answering "why", changing diapers, bathing, etc. For the most part it's all a joy & a privilege. We are very blessed. They are the cutest girls ever!

The tough part is when Mommy's got to be Daddy's administrative assistant who needs to talk on the phone with the banker, vendor, contractor, whomever and try to find a quiet room in the house. I keep the files (somewhat) organized, at the moment, on our kitchen counter in file boxes. I help with the bookkeeping. File the sales tax. Stuff like that. When the kids are occupied I can be found painting various decorations for the restaurant at our kitchen table, posting to Facebook on my laptop on the kitchen counter, or working on various web marketing or design projects for the restaurant in my studio in the basement.

When the kids are asleep at night, I do freelance graphic design projects and maintain a few websites where I sell T-shirts to help bring in an extra stream of needed income. Housework, somehow always falls to the bottom of my list. Grocery shopping has been a life saver these past months with (and actually a money-saver, too, I might add...but that's another post). And somewhere in my action-packed day I try to find time for a shower, and make LOST a weekly priority. The only hour of TV I watch each week now.

A typical "pile" on our kitchen counter these days. This one was of
our restaurant license application papers. Everything in this picture is what
was needed by the city in order to obtain our restaurant license!

"So when do you see your husband?" my friends ask. We talk on the phone all the time (as our staff would confirm). Tony's never been much of a phone guy, but since we started the restaurant, we talk on the phone every day, often several times a day. Mostly business stuff. There's never a shortage of business stuff to talk about. It has kept us more connected then one might think. We need each other to vent to when something is going wrong. We need each other for encouragement when it seems like too much. He'll bring me chocolate. I'll leave him candy in his bag. I could never run a restaurant, but he tells me he couldn't do it without me. We've never had to rely on one another as much as we do now and I think so far we make a pretty good team.

We're confident that after the kitchen renovation is complete and we have a full menu, business will pick up and Tony can take a day off each week. Until then, "crazy" is our normal and we wouldn't trade it for anything (not even our former jobs).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caribe Caribbean Bistro Now Open

Some photos of the dining room

The Grilled Cuban Sandwich, served with pineapple mango cole slaw and plantain chips

Heidi (me) with the new sidewalk sign

Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged. With the whirlwind of activity since we took over Jay's Cafe to turn it into Caribe, it's been easier for me to type a sentence here & there on Facebook and Twitter. But today is a big day...worthy of blogging. Today the new 20 foot yellow awning with the "Caribe" logo was installed on our building. Which means we are officially to be called "Caribe" now, and no longer Jay's Cafe.

As many of you who have frequented the restaurant know, it's been a work in progress since December when we took over. I've been sneaking in the building after hours to work on painting the walls, with the help of family and friends, and the interior is nearly finished. Still some projects to do, but the whole place looks different already with bright, bold colors, tropical foliage, and soon a mural will cover the one remaining white wall.

Tony's been slowly adding to the menu since we took over, too, and it's been great to get your feedback on the new dishes. Breakfast on the weekends continues to be our busiest days, but once we complete the kitchen and change the dinner menu (lots of new appetizers and some tasty new entrees!), we're confident Caribe will be just as popular as a dinner destination.

Speaking of the kitchen, an important date to make a note of is March 29th. That day we will be closing down for a couple of weeks as we have our kitchen remodeled. We are having a huge new hood system put in, which means holes cut in the ceiling, duct work relocated, electrical, gas, plumbing...all of that worked on. Once that new hood system is in place, we can hook up a deep fryer and grill, which will add several new dishes to our menu!

Until then, we are open and would love to have you stop in. We appreciate our loyal customers more than you know and it's you who have carried us through this challenging transition time.

We're so excited for spring and for all the new projects we have in the works. I'll keep you posted here, and as always, on Facebook, too!

Heidi (the chef's wife)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Caribe items on Jay's Cafe menu

Excited to try Caribe's menu? Well, you don't have to wait any longer!

Just as changes are slowly happening to the building (painting, decorating, cleaning up, etc.), we are slowly changing the menu at Jay's Cafe, taking out old items and adding in Tony's Caribe menu items as ingredients and equipment become available.

I wanted to post a few new dishes that are available right now at Jay's Cafe, future home of Caribe. Watch for more dishes to be added this winter until we change over completely this spring.


The two new grilled sandwiches are grilled "Caribbean style" using a flat iron grill. It's basically a panini grill, but with flat grill surfaces. The bread used for these is a Cuban style bread. Since Tony added these to the menu this past week, they have been very popular.

Also new today are the cold sandwiches, ham/swiss or turkey/cheddar, each served on Puerto Rican Sobao Bread with avocado mayo. If you've been following us on Facebook or Twitter, you've probably read all my posts about our quest for this bread. We finally found a small family-owned Spanish bakery in St. Paul who was willing to make this special recipe for these sandwiches. It's a baguette-shaped loaf, soft and white, and slightly sweet. We talked to several bakeries and nobody was willing to try the recipe. So we're excited to finally have this bread! Tony picked it up this morning and said the smell of the fresh-baked bread reminded him of the bakeries in Puerto Rico.

Jumbo Shrimp for lunch

The new lunch entree debuts today. Tony was telling me this morning about the enormous size of the jumbo shrimp he just got in for the new Papaya Garlic Jumbo Shrimp. It sounds delicious. I'm usually at home, so I don't get to try these dishes until Tony brings some home for me to taste! If you do try it, be sure and let us know what you think. Tony's always open to feedback and will adjust the menu to best suit our customers.

New on the lunch menu..............

Grilled Cuban Sandwich
Roasted pulled pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on Cuban bread, served with plantain chips and garlic chili pineapple coleslaw. $10.00

Jerk Chicken Sandwich
Spicy grilled jerk chicken, topped with caramelized onions on Cuban bread. Served with plantain chips and garlic chili pineapple coleslaw. $9.50

1/2 Sandwich Combo
1/2 cold sandwich served with cup of soup and side salad. $9.00

Sandwich choices:
Turkey and Cheddar with Avocado Mayo served on Puerto Rican Sobao Bread
Ham and Swiss with Avocado Mayo served on Puerto Rican Sobao Bread

Cup of soup of the day:
(ask your server about our daily special)

Side salad:
Mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

Papaya Garlic Jumbo Shrimp
2 sauteed jumbo shrimp with garlic, red onions, and papayas served over white rice. $11.00

New on the Dinner menu..............

(New Caribe Salad)

Arugula & Spinach Salad
with avocado, oranges, tomatoes, candied zests and citrus vinaigrette. $7

(New Caribe Entree)

Mahi Mahi
Pan seared Mahi Mahi on garlic mash with celeriac, topped with butter lemon tomato sauce $16

New on the Breakfast menu..............

Smoked Salmon Croquettes
Pan seared, house cured and smoked salmon croquettes topped with citrus beurre blank on a bed of mixed greens. $12

Sweet Potato Pancake
Topped with papaya compote, candied pecans and whipped cream. $8

Pan de Majorca
Grilled Majorca roll with powdered sugar and butter. $3.50

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Valentine's Day at Jay's Cafe (future home of Caribe)

Looking for ideas for this Valentine's Day?

We will have live acoustic guitar and vocals by Phil Berbig on Valentine's Day, Sunday Feb. 14 from 5-9pm (no cover charge). In addition to Jay's Cafe regular dinner menu, we will be offering a five course dinner for one night only!

We hope you can join us, sit back and enjoy your Valentine's Day evening at Jay's Cafe, future home of Caribe.

Valentine's Day Dinner Menu:

Five Course Dinner $50 per person.
A glass of Five Rivers Pinot Noir is included with each meal.

Tapas Amuse
Serrano ham, Manchego cheese and onion marmalade on flat bread with cilantro drizzle.

Mussels Gratin
Mussels steamed, then baked with parmesan cream.

Spinach and Arugula Salad
Spinach, arugula, orange supremes, tomatoes, avocado, and candied zest with citrus vinaigrette.

Salmon with Risotto
Pan seared, miso glazed salmon on wild mushroom risotto Milanese.

Pastel de Tres Leches
Three-milk cake topped with coconut creme anglaise and toasted coconut.

For reservations, call (651)-641-1446

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"Mom & Dad-vertising"

Phil and Rollie (Heidi's parents...the Chef's In-Laws) at Christmas, 2009

With as tough as the restaurant business can be, we'll take any marketing help we can get. Especially during this start-up phase we're in. And on my short list of top-secret advertising strategies that are within our budget (which is currently anything for, um, zero dollars) is what one might call "Mom & Dad-vertising." Seriously, there are no bigger fans of our crazy endeavors than our parents. I guess we're pretty lucky in that regard.

Back when my sister and I were in college and drew up plans for a booth to sell airbrush t-shirts and face painting at our county fair, our Dad didn't bat and eye...built us a booth (that Gretchen still works at every summer, 10 years later), and both he and Mom proudly wore my airbrush T-shirts and told everyone they knew who painted them and how they could get one.

When I wanted to start an online business selling my T-shirts, they'd proudly wear them for other to see. And Tony's mom took order forms and business cards to pass out at her work and also showed off her "gear" from my shop.

So when our restaurant plans were finally becoming more finalized, I decided to make them some new T-shirts for their collection and give them out at Christmas. Each with the Caribe logo. One reads: "Chef's Father-In-Law" the other: "Chef's Mother-In-Law."

In addition to those I made one for myself that reads "Chef's Wife" although Tony's siblings were quick to suggest I make mine say, "Chef's Boss." Tony occasionally wears his Caribe shirt that reads "Grand Poo-bah" under his chef coat. You'll have to ask him about that.

Tony and Rollie (Heidi's Mom, Chef's Mother-In-Law) at Jay's Cafe Jan. 6, 2010

But back to our parents. Even if we had it in our budget to pay one of those crazy-excited people to wave a huge sign all day on the corner of a busy intersection (i.e. "HUGE FURNITURE LIQUIDATION TODAY ONLY 90% OFF!!!), we'd still not get the enthusiasm we genuinely get from our folks.

So thanks, Mom & Dad for wearing your shirts out in public, and Tony's Mom (who's also sporting her "I'm the Chef's Mami" apron!). Your support (and free advertising) means the world to us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Old News (is still news!)

In case you hadn't already seen the Facebook & Twitter posts, I thought I'd post here the first articles on Caribe in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.