Almost every child gets to hear at least one relative say, “You’ve gotten so big,” or “You’re all grown up,” especially when a few years have passed between encounters. On Pierce Street in Downtown Phoenix, just a few blocks south of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station, the Breadfruit has done its share of rapid maturation. The Jamaican restaurant started in 2008 as a small BYOB, but has since obtained a liquor license and opened Rum Bar in the space next door, all without losing sight of the quality of the food served in the restaurant’s compact dining room.
When the Breadfruit opened three years ago, it was welcome not only as a harbinger of a restaurant cluster emerging near the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, but also as one of the few Caribbean restaurants in the metropolitan area. The restaurant gained a following, and customers who wanted wine or beer with their meals brought their own beverages to the restaurant or else enjoyed non-alcoholic choices like mango lemonade with fresh mint. While BYOB had its charms, it also meant that drinks based on rum, the chief spirit of Jamaica, were not available.
With its new bar, the Breadfruit addresses that shortcoming many times over. There are over 100 types of rum available, many from Jamaica but some from places as exotic as Tennessee or Nepal. To appreciate rum on its own terms, try a flight of premium rums with as much terroir as wines or single malt scotches. Alternatively, Rum Bar has abundant cocktails, many based on freshly muddled herbs and fruits instead of syrups or mixes. Mojitos burst with mint, and daily drink specials have included daiquiris made with fresh berries from the market.
While you could drink and even order food in the long, dark confines of Rum Bar, the dining room next door is open and full of natural light. It’s the logical counterpart to the bar, and the choice of environments will grow again as the restaurant opens a small cigar-friendly patio in the back. The small menu isn’t that hard to master, but the Breadfruit’s staff should be commended for describing its intricacies thoroughly. Gone are the occasionally inaccurate descriptions and service errors from the restaurant’s early days.
Servers will often encourage the curried prawns as an appetizer. Think of this as a spicy, salty shrimp cocktail. The salinity is almost too much when the entire dish is eaten as a curry. Instead, pull the prawns out and savor each one individually. A gentler touch is found in the spring rolls, a meatless starter stuffed with mashed plantain and creamy avocado. Keep in mind that portions are restrained at the Breadfruit. One order of these will suffice for two people but not a larger table. The empanadas, pattties stuffed with either spinach or spiced tilapia, are more filling.
Seafood is a big fish in the small pond of the Breadfruit’s menu. Every night, there’s an “esovitch fish,” essentially a fish of the day such as red snapper, served blackened so that it comes out peppery but not especially spicy. The real heat is in the accompanying sauce, which looks innocuous due to its clear, colorless state; however, that’s a slice of incendiary scotch bonnet pepper floating inside. The sides are a festival (a sort of whole wheat breadstick), slaw, and grilled pineapple, with the last offering a sweet fruit taste to offset any burn from the sauce.
Scallops are an everyday entree choice with four plump ones served slightly charred on the exterior, supple and buttery on the inside; These are spicy on their own without any added heat from condiments needed. They’re paired with a mix of kidney beans and rice that adds some heft to the meal and a balance to the high-intensity flavors on the main plate. Jerked shrimp is another fiery choice, plated as the center of its own entree or atop a generous salad with chunks of mango as a mellowing influence.
There’s no red meat on the menu here, so the alternative to seafood is chicken — served jerked in a plated entree, a sandwich, or a salad; in a curry with roasted vegetables and plantains; or in a gentler brown stew. The vegetarian entree is tofu in the same curry as the shrimp and chicken. With almost all these dishes, the flavors are bigger than the portions, leaving plenty of room for cocktails and dessert. For the most part, the value is good, although a distinct lunch menu with a few items at lower prices might make the Breadfruit a more appealing mid-day choice.
|jerk chicken salad|
Even as the Breadfruit has grown up, it hasn’t forgotten a little child-like fun with sweets. Conclude the meal with either the sweet potato “pudd’n” topped with vanilla ice cream. It’s a desert that is restrained in its sweetness and full of genuine sweet potato flavor. Otherwise, order a parfait based on the same ice cream. The non-traditional sundae is a mix of tastes and textures: chewy from raisins, crunchy from Grape-Nuts, and tart from cherry agar-agar, a vegetarian alternative to gelatin.
With some nearby restaurants such as PastaBar and Verde not having survived to adulthood, it’s encouraging to see the Breadfruit doing well at it matures. There will be some challenges, including the upcoming construction project on First Street and Pierce Street. At the same time, the restaurant promises some new menu items after an upcoming trip to Jamaica and has engaged in some joint marketing with the nearby FilmBar. That forward momentum should help the Breadfruit continue to grow and enjoy a long life.
Updated February 7, 2012: The Breadfruit has eliminated lunch service, but remains open for dinner and drinks every night but Sunday.
108 E. Pierce St., Phoenix AZ 85004