Amongst women flower print dresses, the gently scented breeze of a Southern Pride smoker and the lilting patois of Caribbean music, the patio of Revibe Café and Scoop Shop in Sebastopol is about as close to Jamaica as you can get in Sonoma County. Aside from, perhaps, a backstage pass to a Marley concert.
Though the tiny island nation is still 3,000 miles away, it’s not a stretch to say that Sonoma County shares the Caribbean passion for laid-back lifestyles, dreadlocks, herb and embracing diverse culinary traditions in a literal melting pot of flavors. And at that intersection of NorCal and Kingston is a restaurant that brings the best of both to the table.
Revibe Cafe is a longtime project of Bronx transplant Will Abrams and executive chef Anthony Walters, of Kingston, Jamaica. Serving up authentic “beanie” or tapas-style plates of curried goat, jerk chicken, rice and peas, and yam cookup, along with their own exotic ice creams, the restaurant showcases the mashup of Spanish, African, British, Chinese, East Indian and Rastafarian cuisine.
Why Jamaican? It certainly wasn’t a lifetime spent on balmy West Indies shores that led owner Will Abrams, his Jamaican-American wife, and two kids to spend three years rehabbing the former Quonset hut on Healdsburg Avenue into an irie eatery. Instead, Abrams missed the ubiquitous Jamaican cafes found throughout his years living in the Bronx.
“I could leave a busy day at work and then get into a packed subway with a thousand people and then finally find respite from the city grind in a local Jamaican café,” he said. “As soon as you walk in you can feel the vibe…reggae music pulling you into a groove and taking away that city edginess,” he said.
That and the cultural blend of a big city. “Here in Sonoma County we are spoiled with the natural and diverse beauty of our surroundings but it is the cultural diversity of the people and their feelings and food that we have to seek out here among the picturesque landscapes,” he said. “I hope folks can find some of those good feelings and diverse influences here.”
Between clearing tables, serving, chatting up guests and hosting on a packed Sunday evening Abrams said he had a list of culinary ideas he was considering, including a Jewish deli. But it was Jamaican that stuck when he met Walters, who worked for several years to create a menu that would capture the traditional flavors of the island in refined presentations. He gives Walters, a CIA alum who has cooked for dignitaries including former President Obama, complete credit for the food. “The only thing he lets me make is the tea,” he said – a bright red Jamaican hibiscus drink you’ll definitely want to try.
“The only thing he lets me make is the tea,” he said – a bright red Jamaican hibiscus drink you’ll definitely want to try.
Abrams, who has a past in non-profit work decided to bring his expertise in one world to another, donating 50 percent of all profits from the restaurant to local community-based organizations. After asking the community for suggestions, he’s currently supporting the Teen Work Program at the Sebastopol Cultural Community Center and Teen Leadership Project at the Ceres Project.
“As a new restaurant venture, we have limited dollars and limited time to offer so we wanted to make sure we were putting these efforts in programs where they could really make a difference,” said Abrams. He says that bringing the community together is what the word “revibe” means – creating a contagious effect of good feelings and healing in a community.
Best Bets at Revibe Cafe and Scoop Shop
One common misconception about Jamaican food is that it’s always excessively spicy. At Revibe, there’s very little heat in any of the dishes. Instead, herbs and spices provide a big flavor boost. If you’re concerned about specific ingredients, ask your server. Items with an asterisk are special favorites. All of the tapas plates are $8.26, and $3.67 for sides.
*Saba’s Signature Curried Goat: A purse of crisp filo dough holds a few precious bites of slow-cooked goat meat, potatoes, and curried brown gravy. Though goat isn’t as traditional for American diners, it’s pretty much the national meat of Jamaica. This long-cooked version is devoid of any “goaty” flavor if you’re concerned.
*Jerk Chicken Kabob: Do not miss this dish. Strips of white meat chicken marinated in jerk seasonings (cinnamon, thyme, chiles, nutmeg, garlic, unicorn magic) and grilled. Served with mango chutney and creamy dipping sauce. Flavor bomb!
* Ital Stew (vegan): This traditional Rastafarian dish is made with veggies, beans, grains, herbs, spices, “spinners” (a sort of pasta), and coconut cream. Creamy, hearty, insanely flavorful, “ital” is slang for food that contains few artificial elements and is as close to its natural state, with little or no salt. Sounds bland, but definitely isn’t.
*Sudanese Tamarind Ice Cream: Scoops are a huge part of Revibe’s menu, and the wild assortment of flavors made us want to come back for more. And more. And more. It’s all made in-house, without stabilizers, so cram it in your face fast. The tart-sweet tamarind with salted almonds was a favorite, but it’s worth trying a handful of flavors, including Calypso Coffee, Jamaican Rum Raisin, Hard to Beat (beet, sorrel and pomegranate), Herb (vanilla, mint, rosemary, and chocolate) and “Stolen Chocolate”, based on a secret recipe stolen by Sir Hans Sloane in 1860 and reportedly sold to Cadbury.
Fried Dumplings: Little logs of fried donut deliciousness dusted with powdered sugar. Best piping hot.
Steak and Vegetable Patties: Think empanada, rather than hamburger patty. Inspired by English “pasties”, this buttery, curried dough holds either slow cooked steak with black peas, peppers and thyme or mushrooms, peas, broccoli rabe, callaloo (similar to cooked spinach), carrots, peppers, and cabbage. Three to an order, filling and hard to put down.
Roti Pizza: West Indian flatbread transformed into a tasty pizza with mushrooms, cheese, and other goodies.
Daily Salad: Salads aren’t usually worth writing about, but this big old bowl of greens, quinoa cheese, beets and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink gets a dousing of mango vinaigrette that makes it so craveable.
Kid’s Meal: Homemade, double crispy chicken strips and tubers with ketchup.
Revibe Cafe and Scoop Shop is at 7365 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-827-8188, revibecafe.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 11pm, with a late night “Moonshadow” menu available from 9p.m. to close. Reservations highly recommended.