Cool jerk

It’s no secret that the restaurant business can be brutal. You know it. I know it. Desmond Cadin, owner of Pimento Bay, knows it.

It’s also no secret that working for the man, or the woman, if such be the case, ain’t exactly a double no-fat latte, either.

Desmond Cadin knows this, too. If the name rings a slightly Caribbean chime, that’s because Cadin’s one of the founders of Jamaica House on Broadway. Several years of hard work building up a clientele at Jamaica House left Cadin with a severe case of burnout, so he bailed about two years ago, returning to his former trade of refurbishing pipelines.

The pay was good, but the travel up and down the West Coast was intense. He soon found himself longing to be his own boss again.

“I went back to work,” the Kingston, Jamaica, native says, “but work didn’t work out.”

While working on a pipeline in San Jose, he happened upon a Chinese restaurant that offered good food with minimal service at a low price. The idea struck him: Why not do the same thing with Caribbean cuisine in Sacramento?

And thus Pimento Bay, where the price of no entrèe exceeds $3.95, was born.

It’s a charming little place in a small office building near the intersection of S and 19th streets. The interior has been all done up in tropical lemons, limes, tangerines and ocean blue-greens. Sheets of corrugated steel, used for an awning over a pair of booths and as menu placards in the overhead, evoke the rooftops of island villages. Three computers offering free (for now, Cadin points out) Internet access sit atop the counter next to the register where customers place their orders.

It’s cozy, Pimento Bay is, but there are no frills. You know, like waiters and waitresses.

“It’s just a place to get something good to eat,” explains Cadin, who carries the plates out to guests himself, at least when it’s not too busy. “There’s not a lot of pampering.”

“Good” would be the proper adjective for describing the cuisine at Pimento Bay, although at these prices, “great” would not be unwarranted. We had a shotgun sampler of jerk chicken, curry goat, red snapper Creole, jerk-barbecued pork ribs, curry chicken, curry vegetables, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, rice and peas (otherwise known as red beans and rice), and garlic herb fettuccine and still had trouble breaking 20 bucks.

Portions are generous, and the preparation is first-rate (Chanterelle chef Gerald Poole guests on the weekends and was in the house the night of our visit). Of particular note are the jerk selections. Jamaican jerk sauce has a rich tradition that goes back to the days when native islanders broke the bonds of British slavery, Cadin informed us. Pork was a primary staple, and they used spicy pimento (allspice—not pimiento, those little red things kids pick out of their food) to season and preserve large sides of it. Over the years, it’s developed into the seasoning equivalent of a flamethrower.

“Everybody [in Jamaica’s] got their own formula,” Cadin says. He’s got several versions, including one sweetened with mango that’s delicious. But there’s no way he can serve the real stuff. Too hot. “The one I make here, it’s cut.”

Cadin hopes to expand his menu to live up to Pimento Bay’s slogan, “Caribbean cuisine with a California flair.” He’s already serving a number of Western-style items, including the “jerk melt,” a chicken breast sandwich served with jerk sauce and jack cheese. He plans to have Cuban and other West Indian offerings soon.

“I want to mix it up,” he says. “Put a little island in it, but give people what they’re used to. The best of both worlds.”

So far, it appears Cadin is right in the stream of things.