410 E. Whittier St. Columbus OH (614) 443-2262
Most fusion cuisines these days blend something from the pan-Asian traditions with something from a vaguely French-like sort of style. Some just blend one Asian tradition with another Asian tradition, and still others blend the aforementioned vague French-ness with either science or extraordinarily peculiar or very, very tiny constituents. Science fusion food usually involves things like liquid nitrogen infused emulsions of obscure spices and the yolks of unusual game foul eggs. The tiny ingredient filled food is almost always presented in some kind of skyscraper fashion, whereby miniature squashes, micro greens and petit filets of small but delicious loins are fashioned into a tower that takes an even handed foodservice professional with unflappable concentration to make it to the table without collapsing. Then, whatever it is gets itself drizzled with five spice buerre blanc or a soy foie gras emulsion. What the?!? We must remember, after all, that not all fusion is a good idea… just look at Jazz Fusion.
Banana Bean Café cooks up a comestible fusion that deserves nothing less than the most vehement accolades shouted the highest mountaintops. Actually, it is much more practical to print the accolades in a magazine such as the one you are reading now, but that should in no way diminish the accolades’ vehemence. So, with that in mind, please pretend that we are shouting this from a mountaintop.
The food at Banana Bean Café is the single best exemplar of Floribbian food in the known universe. It is even better than food from Floribbia. Actually, there is no Floribbia. Floribbian food is just the name that Banana Bean uses to describe their deft fusion of the myriad culinary traditions of the many islands, isthmuses and peninsulas that jut out into the Caribbean. So, hungry patrons might find themselves confronted with a plate full of Frogs’ Legs covered in a spicy blend of jerk-like seasonings and fiery chilies, which would effectively cover Florida, Jamaica and Cuba in one fell swoop. Actually, hungry patrons absolutely must find themselves confronted with those frogs’ legs, even if the hungry patron in question has food-related phobias that might otherwise preclude such actions. There is simply nothing like them in any single culinary tradition. The tender meat falls off the bone into a glistening puddle of reddish-orange sauce, from which it should be plucked and savored atop a point of toast, chunk of roll or another piece of frog leg.
If said patron has a hard time seeing past the phobias on the first visit, perhaps said patron should consider a blend of San Lucia, Key West and Haiti. The Coconut Blue Crab Cake with Mango Pepper Slaw and Pineapple Rum Buerre Blanc ought to cover that. Or, maybe the Key Lime Caesar with Manchego and Crispy Plantain Chips would be more that particular patron’s style. Both are delectable.
Working from the assumption that every dish on the menu at Banana Bean Café incorporates a patois of traditions that are in and of themselves a patois of other traditions, we can now address the skill and care with which they are all prepared. It is unlikely that anyone in the kitchen has taken the time to rub each Flatiron Steak with each individual granule of coffee until the meat absorbs the perfect amount of dark roasted acid, tannin and mocha, but it sure does taste like someone did. The outside of the steak is remarkably tender and rich in roasted bean flavor, while the inside packs the familiar taste of the unfamiliar term ‘umami’ (it’s a real word, Google™ it) and the firmness one expects from a flatiron. Banana Bean then raises the stakes by serving the steak with a couple of locally-raised sunny-side-up duck eggs. Move over wheat based breakfast cereals. Here is the real breakfast of champions (or lunch, or dinner, or midnight snack).
The Blueberry and Roasted Corn Pancakes are not only inspired, they are flawlessly executed. They are fluffy, without being overly cake-y; sweet without tasting like they were made for children and covered in velvety creamy mascarpone cheese. Their cousin—the Sweet Corn Crepes with Cuban pork confit and pineapple habanera barbeque sauce—take a much more savory tack, but awaken the palate with a jolt of smoky, crunchy and spicy that is the same kind of heavenly as sitting on a beach in Negril watching the sun set as a local band of musicians pays tribute to the original. The menu at Banana Bean says the crepes are an appetizer, but rules are for suckers. A double or triple order makes for an outstanding entrée.
There are twenty sandwiches on the menu at Banana Bean and as many other items, so trying all of them in one visit is ill-advised. That is precisely why we advise more than one trip. Even after several, there will still be things left to try, like the Slash and Burn Grouper, which boasts a generous dollop of scotch-bonnet and pineapple salsa and lump blue crab cakes. Once tried, that dish has a definite propensity to reach the status of favorite, but playing favorites before having tried everything is really not a good idea at Banana Bean. If, for example, the fried green tomato BLT is always the sandwich of choice, the oyster po’ boy will never have a chance to express its briny, crunchy magnificence. Nor will the Calle Ocho be allowed to wow (used here as a verb) with Cuban roast pork loin, Manchego cheese and Latin olive, caper and cachucha salad.
There are no two ways about it. Multiple trips are a necessity. Bear in mind that just because an item is listed as a breakfast, doesn’t mean it can’t be dessert. Bananas Foster French Toast is an excellent example of that, as is the Sweetened Polenta with Mixed Berries. Items listed under Desserts make great breakfasts; those listed under brunch make for tremendous lunches or dinners; and the dinner section is full of things that everyone wants to eat all the time (even if they don’t know it yet). It is a good thing there are seven days in a week, because at three meals a day, it is going to take at least two to try everything.
Better get started.