Let me start by saying how thrilled I was to get an email invitation to the highly anticipated soft opening of local gem Caribbean Grill. They’ve been around Champaign-Urbana for 7 years. They started out at Taste of Champaign then began catering, lunch carry-out, and for the past two years they’ve run a popular food truck. A smile spread across my face as I read my email. I’d been following the Caribbean Grill Instagram account and had seen some behind the scenes photos, but now I would be able to get a peak inside to see all the pieces put together. I wrote back right away and accepted the invitation. I put the date on my calendar in bright red letters.
The day of the event had arrived and it was a good idea that we (I took my husband Corey along) decided to go early. We arrived at 11am and I was ready to eat. We pulled into the Shops of Knollwood and began to scan the row of signage for our destination. We spotted it quickly and found a parking spot. I got my shots of the exterior, then we headed in to feast.
As soon as we opened the door the owner was there with a smile as bright as the sun. He welcomed us warmly and told us a bit about the rennovation and menu.
One of the walls is graced by a colorful mural painted by talented local artist Chris Logan. Another wall is made of hand placed wood panels made out of reclaimed pallet wood from the restaurant’s equipment shipments. They sanded the wood, stained it a deep brown, and then installed it board by board, creating a warming affect on the space. Mike also mentioned that the cups, napkins, to-go boxes and many other items in the restartaunt are all earth friendly. Being an earth concious person myself, this delighted me to no end.
It was time for one of my favorite parts of being a food blogger. It was time to order some food! Our host suggested we try the jerk chicken and kindly directed us toward the cashier for more recommendations. The cashier was very friendly and suggested we try the jerk ribs and the island fruit punch.
She handed us our number and we settled into a table for two by the front windows. While we waited for our meal we ran into our friend Michael McDonald from Wood N’ Hog Barbeque. He was there to support the local food scene and congratulate Mike Harden on his big day. That’s one of things I love about living in Champaign-Urbana, we support our local businesses and charities like no other.
Our order was up in a quick 10 minutes and we dug in like we hadn’t eated in a week. Everthing looked amazing and the aromatic smells of the all spice and peppers filled the air. I took a generous bite of my beans and rice and started sipping on my Island Fruit Punch. The beans were cooked to perfection and the tender rice was laced with exotic flavors of the islands. The fruit punch was extremely fruity and refreshing. Which was the perfect thing to cool down my tastebuds after my next bite of food.
The jerk chicken was so juicy and tender. (Even as I write this my mouth is starting to water.) I wonder how they get the chicken so fall off the bone delicious.
The mix of spices lathered all over the chicken was heavenly. It’s definitely a dish for those of us who love and appreciate spicy food. The side of plaintain seems to help control the heat too. It’s not only spicy but highly spiced. I thought I tasted cinnamon or nutmeg, but I can’t be sure. I do remember that Mike mentiond a lot of that flavor comes from the all spice.
The ribs were glistening and the meat was succulent and juicy. The salt level was perfect and although the spicy heat is high and builds on your palate, the fragrant spices still come through beautifully. Corey was delighted that he’d chosen the Mango Sweet Tea to cool off his mouth after devouring the spicy feast.
Once the main dishes were polished off it was time for dessert. A gorgeously golden Pineapple Rum Cake topped with chopped Pecans. I opened the lid of the treat, and the sweet smell of rum mixed with butter filled my senses and made my mouth water. The cake itself is very dense so I was surprised when it melted in my mouth. It was reminiscent of an old-fashioned pound cake. The flavor of the pecans mixed with the flavors of rum and pinapple were delecatable. I could imagine it with a big dollop of cold fresh whipped cream perched on top. This dessert was unique and divive all at once.
We finished up our island feast and headed to say our goodbyes to the owner. We were honored to meet his lovely wife and sweet son before we left. They were super friendly and made us feel right at home.
I’m beyond ecstatic that after all of their hard work and dedication, the Carribean Grill team has finally opened thier very own brick and mortor location.
They’ve created a vibrant atmosphere of warmth and friendship that leaves you feeling energized and well…happy. The food is cooked with passion and tastes phenominal. I can’t wait to try more from the menu, and I already want another frosty Island Fruit Punch to sip on. Grab your friends and family and head over to Caribbean Grill for an incredible meal that will make your stomach and your heart happy.
*Opening day is Tuesday, May 30th
2135 South Neil Street
Champaign, IL. 61820