Rum Cocktail Pairings and Jamaican at the Breadfruit
My friend Natalie introduced me to The Breadfruit and its Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix a few years ago. I immediately fell in love with this welcoming space owned by Dwayne Allen, resident rum master and historian, and his partner, award-winning Chef Danielle Leoni, and her vibrant modern Jamaican menu. I featured it in the Summer 2012 issue of Arizona Wine Lifestyle (you can read it here), and my adoration has never waned. If anything, it has grown, with the superlative jerk chicken no longer just a weekend special, a rum selection that now numbers 148, and a showstopper cocktail called Mutiny in the County that should be on every national Best Cocktail list.
Cocktails at the Rum Bar are thoughtful and ingredient-driven. I ask how often the list is changed. "We do two to three a year", Dwayne tells me, "though it depends on our access to ingredients. We want to use all these crazy esoteric ingredients that nobody else is using. Our winter menu and our spring menu will sometimes overlap, but for the most part, we think of it as hot weather food and drink, and cooler weather food and drink. Last year we only did two menus because we just could not get any of the things we wanted to work with. This current menu was created in April and will probably take us through the next month and we’ll switch; we have quite a few things that we’re poking around with."
Ingredients are just as important to Chef Danielle. "An important part of cooking is being able to find food that tastes like what it actually is. For example, I use free range chicken from Dave Jordan’s Two Wash Ranch [New River, Arizona]. I also love his herbs. Pretty much I tell Dave, if you grow it, I’ll just buy it. You can buy a bag of basil from Costco or you can buy a bag of basil from Dave. They look the same, but they’re not. I sometimes feel the farmers never really get the recognition they deserve."
This is one of the reasons the pimento wood jerk chicken at The Breadfruit is so outstanding. It's juicy and tender, with each bite resulting in a lingering, complex, fragrant heat. As Danielle explains, "I start with a half chicken from Two Wash Ranch, brine it with our jerk rub, and then it's marinated in all the traditional Jamaican seasonings - pimento, which is allspice, tomato, onion, and jerk rub - for two days. We pull it out and it’s stacked and layered and packed with even more jerk rub. When somebody orders it, we slow grill it over pimento wood and finish it with a hit of pimento wood smoke as it rests. We import both the allspice berry and the wood from Jamaica. " Now I understand why it's so flavorful. And how does the chef recommend the best way to enjoy it? "I never use a fork and knife", says Danielle, "I just pick it up and eat it. It needs to be experienced." Wise words. Chef Danielle also gives me a little background for her inspiration for the tangy jerk sauce. "When we eat jerk chicken in Jamaica, we always eat it streetside. You pick which pieces you want and they chop it up. The thing is, probably within the last 8-10 years, they’re offering you ketchup with it. They squirt it right on top of this chicken, right? And then you get a couple of slices of hard dough bread, which is a dense, toothsome white bread. You get your chicken, your bread, the ketchup and they cover it in foil. Everything just steams together and the natural juices from your chicken leak out right onto the plate and mix with the ketchup, and I actually I find it quite good”, she says. “Good?” Dwayne interjects, “it’s more than quite good, it’s delicious! Especially after a night of boozing.” "True," Danielle laughs, "so what I did is I made my version. It has pineapple juice, orange juice, thyme, jerk rub, and tomato, so it is as much as a 'ketchup' that I’m willing to serve."
What to pair? Dwayne recommends Sometime In August, with Angostura 5-year-old Caribbean rum, pimento dram, smoked pineapple shrub, lemon and bay leaf bitters. "We've discovered the pineapple essence really works well with jerk and the smoke itself is very specific since it’s pimento wood." And it's the pineapple shrub that is the secret ingredient in Sometime in August. Should I share the secret, I ask? "Sure", Danielle and Dwayne laugh, "because no one will be able to recreate it." “I think of the kind of smokiness that this cocktail has as the kind of smokiness you want to eat", Dwayne describes. "Let me tell you about the inspiration. When we first made that shrub, we were thinking about Christmas ham and pineapple. We started out with roasting the pineapple. That’s something that is done in Jamaica all the time, and we do it at home. We just throw a sweet over-ripe pineapple on the grill, unpeeled of course, and char the outside all the way around. It steams up inside the skin and then you peel it. You can chop it up and put it in a salad, but I like to eat it just like that. Then we thought, what if we put it in a smoke box with the pork in there, what would happen?" Magic happened, I answer, as I appreciate the savory smokiness of the cocktail and its perfect marriage with the jerk chicken. "I think that’s what good food and drink are about, those types of experiments that turn into these wonderful discoveries”, Dwayne muses, and he is right.
"This dish reminds me of Jamaica" says Danielle of her rum-glazed prawns, served with crumbles of Crow's Dairy feta goat cheese and grilled roti flatbread. "I think it is so emblematic of the people. It shows how the many cultures come together on that island to create an everyday dish. You have Indian roti, the rum from Jamaica, the seafood is represented, and then you have all the fresh seasonings." Adds Dwayne, "You'll find Jamaica is really the ultimate melding of cultures where everybody on the island took all their different foods and heritage around food and super-compressed it together. A large percentage are East Indians. They came to Jamaica as indentured servants in the Colonial days, as did Asians – Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean – and everybody brought their food. The majority of the population are of West African heritage, and then we have some Europeans in there. Unlike most places that have a mixing of immigrant cultures, in Jamaica they don’t stay separated. For example, you won’t find an Indian segment of Jamaica, or a Chinatown in Jamaica, it doesn’t exist. Everybody brought their agriculture and their techniques, and everything is integrated. Everybody is eating everybody’s food. Jamaican’s mainstream culture is actually a melding of everyone's cultures, which has created this very distinct cuisine."
Dwayne explains why he chose to pair the prawns with the Coconut Bramble, a fruity refresher using Plantation 3 Stars Silver Rum (Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad) topped with coconut cream and garnished with crushed freeze-dried raspberries. "The body of the cocktail is raspberry shrub, kind of zesty, and you always want to put a little zest with your seafood. The prawns are cooked with rum so there is an inherent sweetness, and the shrub just sort of helps cut through that. And it's a spicy dish, which works very well with the creaminess of the coconut. Adds Danielle, "When I saute the prawns, I use ripe Roma tomato and I think the raspberry picks up the sweet tomato. Then there is a lot of fresh thyme and garlic in it and it just balances out perfectly."
"Bright and clean" is how Danielle describes the rock shrimp ceviche. "When I have it, it just reminds me of driving around on the island. It's traditional, with lime, mango, avocado, tomato, bell pepper, and lots of fresh herbs like thyme, basil, parsley, and cilantro. I really like this because when I go to Jamaica, I eat fish right out of the sea and lots of fresh raw vegetables. Again, like the roti, which is Indian influence, you have this ceviche, which is Spanish influence. We just grab hold of them in Jamaica and they become Caribbean with the island's fruits and vegetables." And don't think the crackers, rolled with rosemary, baked and lightly salted, are an afterthought. “They are so addictive”, Dwayne tells me, “that every time we send those out, people ask for more.”
The suggested pairing is the delightful Shim Sham, made with Appleton Estate V/X rum, almond, pineapple, lime, Luxardo Amaretto, and nutmeg. "You always want to pair something light and crisp with ceviche", Dwayne notes. "The Shim Sham is nutty with a pineapple essence and a nice rich mouthfeel from the almond syrup that we make in house. It also pairs well with the crackers, with just the right amount of sweetness to offset them."
Which brings us to the Mutiny in the County, poured as an accompaniment to the fish of the day special - a pan-seared King Salmon fillet lightly jerked and served over fresh farm vegetables with a tangy guava-scotch bonnet-passion fruit sauce and honey balsamic. "The name is a play on the old story of Mutiny on the Bounty with Captain Bligh and his attempts to bring breadfruit from Tahiti to the king", explains Dwayne. It is served with a single ice cube and garnished artfully by bartender Danielle with whole cloves. As I take a sip, Chef Danielle and Dwayne watch for my reaction. Wow! It's creamy, yet light, I taste coconut, and there is an elusive earthiness to it, yet somehow an almost briny umami richness and depth of flavor. Not knowing the ingredients, do I taste coffee? Salted caramel? No and no. "That is crazy, isn’t it?" asks Danielle. "I think that is the coolest drink that he’s ever made." Dwayne doesn't keep me guessing for long. "We make this cocktail with Irish moss seaweed" he informs me. Creative genius is my response. He continues, “In Jamaica there are drinks made with Irish moss, and we do a roots drink or tonic, which is kind of a fermented drink. It has a host of ingredients in it, lots of spices and sometimes oats, so the end drink is rich; it’s rich and heavy. So we were thinking with this cocktail, could we capture the essence of that? And I think we have. The thing is, I didn’t want to recreate the roots drink. I wanted to be inspired by it. The over-arching flavor of this is the Irish moss, that salty craziness that you can’t quite place. We had that in for probably about a year or so, trying different combinations before we made a tincture we liked. " He adds, "I have one just about every night. We spent so much time working at it, trying to get it right. I think it's my best work." I couldn't agree more.
Though the cocktail list is always evolving, it is no surprise that there are some tried and true favorites that raise a clamor if removed. "Even though we don’t like to repeat", says Dwayne, "there are some mainstays on our menu. Over the years, we’re finding more and more cocktails we need to keep, like The Shorty [Angostura 7-year, house tonic, habanero-infused syrup and sage], for example. It didn’t seem like it sold that well, but when we took it off, there were so many people asking for it. The Rum Old-Fashioned has such a fan base, we just can’t take that off and it's become a staple. The Tradewind Swizzle [Rhum Clement Barrel Select from Martinique, house herb liqueur, grenadine, licorice root, and lime zest] also has its fan base. People come in, they don’t want to look at a menu, that’s just what they want."
Whether it is a new signature creation, or an old favorite, "come find your rum" at the Rum Bar and pair it with one of Chef Danielle's delicious Caribbean creations. Take a trip to the islands with this Jamaican gem.
Special thanks to Bryan Burton and Danielle Goldtooth for their cocktail-making prowess during this interview.
For behind the scene photos, click here.