Calypso Pork Belly ($12.99) with Shrimp Pup-a-lickie ($7.49) and pigeon peas and rice ($8.99) in the background. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

This DREAMY Caribbean food at Yellow Springs grill will help you escape winter

Are you stuck in Ohio for the winter and already in need of an island getaway?

Yellow Springs is no Jamaica, but food done well has the power to transport you from a table or booth, and one of my very favorite restaurants to open in 2018 has just the kind of food to do it.

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Housed in an old KFC adorned with bright Caribbean colors, Calypso Grill and Smokehouse is a little gem in the Dayton restaurant scene that deserves attention.

Brian Rainey, owner of Sunrise Cafe in Yellow Springs, Ohio. CONTRIBUTED

The relatively new restaurant, which opened at the end of March, has a local chef behind it who has proven himself with another fantastic restaurant.

Calypso Grill and Smokehouse is the brainchild of Brian Rainey, who is the chef and owner of Sunrise Cafe in downtown Yellow Springs, which has been operating for more than 13 years.

He decided to open the restaurant after a trip to the Caribbean left him inspired by the flavors he enjoyed. When Dona Margarota’s, a Mexican restaurant at 1535 Xenia Ave., shut its doors, a vision of bringing flavorful Cuban, Brazilian and South American dishes to Miami Valley diners became a reality.

“It all started on a blessed trip to the Cayman Islands where I met my new friend Barry, a Jamaican-born contractor who three days a week makes the most amazing jerk chicken at his little roadside stand on Cayman Brac. It’s the talk of the 14-square-mile island of 2,000 people, who flock to his shed-turned-culinary-mecca every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I lied awake one night infatuated by the smoky, sweet and spicy memories of the chicken from the day before and knew I had to talk to Barry and introduce myself. He was as friendly as they come and we talked for a while about island life, kids, how he makes his own charcoal, my dream of bringing his legacy back to Yellow Springs, the fact that he has always wanted to visit Ohio (he has a friend in Cincinnati. It was still hard for me to fathom why) and of course jerk chicken,” writes Rainey on the Calypso Grill website.

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Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

“He never wrote down a recipe but every word of our conversation still resonates in my mind. It was one of those magical moments I remembered why I’m in this crazy business. Quickly my infatuation grew into a full-blown obsession of all things Caribbean and the cuisines of neighboring Latin-America. I went back to my roots. Devouring cookbooks. Especially those with stories of different cultures and the evolution of its regional cuisine all tied together by the same ingredients. Some dishes we meticulously kept authentic. Others we gave our own culinary spin. All of them we stuck to my standards of sourcing locally and as sustainable as possible. I hope you enjoy the fruition of my obsession. I hope you can taste the sunshine, the music, the sound of the ocean and culture in our vibe and in our food.”

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Rainey has realized his vision — you don’t have to go to the Caymen’s for Latin-Caribbean cuisine including jerk chicken, mojo pork, empanadas, sweet plantains, ropa vieja, mojito-garlic shrimp and other from scratch dishes that were birthed from a passion for cooking and travel. The menu is a festive tribute to dishes packed with history and dreamy flavors.

Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

A recent dinner began with a mojito muddled and shaken into a pulp served up with an appetizer of Shrimp Pup-a-lickie ($7.49). The plate featured eight Caribbean-style popcorn shrimp in a specially seasoned batter with whole kernels of fresh sweet corn served alongside a “calypso sauce” for dipping. The batter was light and just a little sweet and very satisfying both in price, portion and execution. You can taste the island inspiration and like so many of the featured appetizers including fried plantains ($5), empanadas ($6.99 for chicken or black beans and corn and $7.99 for beef) and some of the best smoked jerk chicken wings you could hope for ($6.49), it is a great gateway to the rest of the menu.

The entrees continue the impressive trend.

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Meat is something Calypso Grill and Smokehouse executes very well on. Ropa Vieja ($13.99) is a flavorful and generous piece of marinated brisket shredded and sauteed with peppers, onions, green olives, pimentos white wine, herbs and spices while the slow smoked Mojo Pork ($11.99) in a Cuban mojo marinade of citrus juice, garlic, herbs, spices, chiles and paprika is piled high and deep.

The West Indian Lamb Curry ($13.99) is full of fantastic tender flavor thanks to a slow simmer for hours in curry spices, garlic, onions, tomatoes and coconut milk. The pigeon peas and rice ($8.99) is a simple vegetarian dish that may have humble ingredients but tastes complicated and wonderful. The pigeon peas and long grain rice are stewed with coconut milk, fresh thyme, chiles, garlic, aromatics, fresh mango and rum to make an immensely satisfying dish that can maybe best be described as a Caribbean vegetarian jambalaya. Meat eaters can add protein to it for an even more festive feast.

Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

Much of the menu is gluten-free and vegetarian friendly. The Island inspired craft cocktail menu with a plethora of rum-based drinks and nice craft beer options have plenty to pair with whatever dish you ultimately decide on. A margarita, mojito, piña colada, caipirinha or daiquiri just enhances the warmth of the flavors and feelings delivered up by the Calypso Grill kitchen.

A homemade key lime pie shows off in the best way that they are not heavy handed with flavor. It was light, refreshing and not too sweet.

Sunday Brunch at Calypso Grill and Smoke House offers Jerk Bloody Marys and fresh fruit mimosas as well as $15 Beach Bum margarita pitchers that can be ordered up alongside a menu of Caribbean-inspired brunch selections like the Calypso pork belly and eggs. Fresh ground coffee roasted by Brother Bear’s Coffee is also on tap if you are looking for something with less alcohol and more caffeine.

It’s one of the best Sunday brunch options in town … or lunch options … or dinner options. If you like flavor, this is one sure-fire spot in town to find it no matter what time of day or day of the week that you decide on a visit.

HOW TO GO

What: Calypso Grill and Smokehouse

Where: 1535 Xenia Ave., Yellow Springs

More info: 937-767-9000 or calypsogrill.net

Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. CONTRIBUTED/ALEXIS LARSEN

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