Kingston 11 Brings Jerk Chicken, Jamaican Pride to Uptown 

Plus vinegary soda from INNA Jam's Dafna Kory.

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The last we heard from Kingston 11, the jerk-chicken-and-reggae party was popping up every Friday and Saturday night at Berkeley's Guerilla Cafe — shining a bright light, at least for those two evenings, on a food culture that is largely underrepresented in the Bay Area.

Now, the restaurant's proprietors — Adrian Henderson, Nigel Jones, and Andre King — have found a permanent brick-and-mortar home in Uptown Oakland, at the former location of Off the Hook (2270 Telegraph Avenue).

Jones, the chef, said their goal is to educate the community about Jamaican culture beyond Bob Marley and beautiful beaches. He pointed out that Kingston, Jamaica's capital, is a city — just like Oakland. "We want to mix those two concepts together," Jones said.

The project's name alludes to the zip code of the neighborhood where Jones grew up. The ninety-seat restaurant will feature full table service and a rum bar. Signature dishes include oxtail stew, house-smoked escoveitched salmon, and, of course, the jerk chicken, which former Express food critic Jesse Hirsch praised for its tenderness and its "intricate, smoky, and deep" flavor (see "Kingston Style, 11/30/2011).

Most of the meat and produce will be sourced locally, with exception, made for spices and other obscure ingredients that are only available in Jamaica. Of particular note: Jones has a cousin in Florida who will supply the restaurant with fresh ackee — to my knowledge, every other Caribbean restaurant in the Bay Area uses a canned or jarred version of the tropical fruit.

Thus, ackee and saltfish will headline the restaurant's all-day Sunday brunch menu, which also includes callaloo (a vegetable stew), as well as twists on American breakfast foods — think pancakes served with a rum-infused syrup and fresh pineapple.

And the club crowd will be happy to know that the restaurant will stay open late on Friday and Saturday nights (until 2 a.m.).

The third partner in the venture, King, is an architect who has taken the lead on the design and build-out. He described his vision for the space as "modern chic with Jamaican flavor." The decor will feature lots of greenery and will reflect the Kingstonian value of making use of the materials that one has at hand.

The three co-owners are looking toward a soft opening in mid to late April, with a full opening sometime in May.

For the Love of Shrub

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with Dafna Kory, the proprietress of the Emeryville-based jam producer INNA Jam, to throw back several shots of vinegar.

Well, that's not exactly right. What Kory set before me, in fact, were several thimbles worth of shrub: a kind of syrup that she makes with equal parts vinegar, sugar, and fresh fruit. And though I did sip some of it straight up, mostly I drank it as Kory intended, mixed with seltzer water to create fruit-flavored sodas that were sweet and tart — as refreshing a cold beverage as one could hope for on a warm day.

Kory has been tinkering with the shrubs for the past several months, and she's now developed — and bottled — seven different flavors, each corresponding to one of her existing jams: apricot, fig, Meyer lemon, quince, raspberry, strawberry, and tayberry. They'll all be available for purchase ($15 for a 375-mL bottle), both online and at INNA Jam's commercial kitchen facility in Emeryville (1307 61st Street), starting on Wednesday, March 20.

A long-forgotten staple of colonial-era cocktail guides, with roots in the ancient Middle East (the word comes from sharab, meaning "drink" in Arabic), shrub has been fashionable among trendsetting mixologists for the past couple of years.

What you don't see much of, however, is shrub that's bottled for home use — for mixing your own cocktails or, as Kory prefers, for making excellent fruit-flavored sodas. She explained that she became interested in shrub because she likes tart drinks, but also because making it allows her to preserve more of the fruit and to incorporate parts — the cores, for instance — that she can't use for jam-making.

"It's a jam pickle," she said.

For her shrubs, Kory first adds sugar to the fruit — to macerate it, essentially, coaxing out as much juice and flavor as possible. Then she adds apple cider vinegar and cold-cures the mixture in the fridge for several months. To make a soda, she mixes the shrub with seltzer at roughly a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio, though of course you can adjust to your own taste.

When I tried these freshly mixed shrub sodas, I was pleasantly surprised that the vinegar flavor, while it packed a bracing, sour punch, wasn't at all harsh. I loved the subtlety of the apricot soda — the fruit flavor more of an aftertaste than anything. The quince soda tasted like it had been perfumed with a particularly floral variety of honey. And, my personal favorite, the raspberry soda was as bold and true-tasting an embodiment of that fruit as you could hope for in a carbonated beverage.

Kory will host a party at her Emeryville kitchen on Saturday, March 23, to celebrate the release of the shrubs. If you've never tried shrub before, this would be a good opportunity to taste a few different flavors before you decide to drop $15 on an entire bottle. 

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