Say, “Yeah Mon!” at Calypso Grill and Smokehouse

Calypso’s Cuban Ropa Vieja is a delightful festival of flavors.

By Paula Johnson

Every time I hear the word jerk I think of my husband, known here as PIP (Palate In Progress). Not that kind of jerk—the jerk that is practically the Jamaican national dish. We spent our honeymoon in Jamaica almost six years ago, and I’ve longed for the tastes of the island ever since. And now, in Yellow Springs, I discovered a place that took me right back to Negril. Calypso Grill and Smokehouse, recently opened by the owner of Yellow Springs favorite Sunrise Cafe, is that place. No woman no cry no more, because it’s the real thing.

Calypso has a great rum drink selection with both dark and light rum, as well as Jamaican beer. I had to begin with a refreshing Rum Punch ($7.00), a great start and match for what followed. The menu at Calypso actually goes beyond Caribbean; Cuban and Latin American dishes are also featured. Our focus that night was of course on the Jamaican, but Cuba called out to me as well. Next trip I will explore the South American portion of the menu, which features dishes like Colombian Shrimp with Coconut Rice and Chorizo and Brazilian Steak Tips.

Such A Jerk!
Jerk is obligatory. Start with Calypso’s Jerk Chicken Wings ($5.99) They’re described as marinated and smoked until fall off the bone tender, served with either spicy or mild jerk sauce, and indeed they were. (I recommend the spicy). Just what is jerk? Food writer Julia Moskin sums it up best: “Done right, jerk chicken is one of the great barbecue traditions of the world, up there with Texas brisket and Chinese char siu. It is Jamaica to the bone, aromatic and smoky, sweet but insistently hot. All of its traditional ingredients grow in the island’s lush green interior: fresh ginger, thyme and scallions; Scotch bonnet peppers; and the sweet wood of the allspice tree, which burns to a fragrant smoke.” I tasted all of this in these wings.

Calypso Grill owner/chef Brian Rainey takes the extra step of importing the wood traditionally used in Jamaica for smoking jerk meats. It’s known as “pimentowood,” and actually comes from the allspice tree, the fruit of which is used to make allspice, also used in many jerk recipes. The wood is “certified authentic” and imported from Jamaica as 2-3 inch chunks that are then used in the commercial smoker. Calypso’s jerk chicken is smoked for 2-1/2 hours, while the pork is smoked for 8-10 hours. That commitment to authenticity comes through in the flavor of the meat, and it’s worth the extra effort to be sure.

Plantain Primer
Plantains are also necessary, and so is a little explanation. There are two kinds of plantains, both from the same plant but wildly different. Calypso offers both, one as an appetizer, Fried Plantains ($5.00), described as mashed thin and fried until crispy served with Colombian guacamole and aji salsa. These are the crispy, chewy, salty, savory ones. We loved the aji salsa dip—a tangy vinaigrette with scallions, as well as the guacamole. The other style of plantain are called maduros, made with plantains that are ripened till their skins turn nearly black, These are sweet and soft and equally delicious, bearing almost no resemblance to their less ripe counterparts. They are listed under side dishes on the menu, and are also part of some entree plates. Order them on the side if they’re not included in your entree choice, or as an appetizer.

Also worthy of mentioning are the Empanadas ($6.99-$8.99), fried cornmeal dough pockets filled with chicken, beef, or black bean and corn (The menu offers many vegetarian and gluten free choices). They are served with a chimichurri aioli and the aji salsa. We munched these while mulling over what to choose for entrees. Cuban Ropa Vieja ($13.99) won out. The literal translation of Ropa Vieja is “Old Clothes” because the shredded stew meat resembles strips of rags or cloth. Besides the marinated brisket, peppers, onions, green olives are cooked with wine and aromatic herbs and spices. This dish, served on a bed of rice along with sweet plantain slices, was a delightful festival of flavors.

Get Stewed
Jamaican Brown Stew was the other winner, a difficult choice with so many wonderful sounding offerings, but one I am so glad I made. Chicken ($10.99) or Red Snapper ($15.99) are offered. I chose the chicken, made with chicken thighs stewed in a savory sauce of onions, garlic, tomatoes, and rum, topped with fresh mango and served on a bed of pigeon peas and rice. So many intense flavors here—pepper, vinegar, smoke, sweet, aromatic. So very good, and even better the next day when I ate it for breakfast. (It was supposed to be for lunch but I just couldn’t wait) Delicious house made Key Lime Pie and Chocolate Fudge Coconut Rum Cake with Ice Cream ($6.00 each) crowned the evening, one of the tastiest meal experiences I’ve had in a long while.

Thanks Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. Now us crazy kids can relive our honeymoon anytime right here in Yellow Springs!

Calypso Grill and Smokehouse
1535 Xenia Ave, Yellow Springs, OH
(937) 767-9000
Closed Tuesdays

Cuisine: 50/50
Value: 25/25
Service: 22/25
Total Rating: 97

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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