Caribe Sneak Preview

A few readers have written to ask: What happened to Jay’s Café? Sadly, the little bistro on Raymond (near University and 280 on the St. Paul side of the Minneapolis-St. Paul border) is done. But in its place, Caribe is about to be born!

Caribe will be a Caribbean restaurant with an emphasis on Puerto Rican food. (It’s pronounced like the word carry + bay, so car-EE-bay.) The Puerto Rican emphasis reflects owner Tony Panelli’s heritage, Panelli told me in a phone interview this morning. He moved to Minnesota with his family when he was 11, following two brothers who were going to the U of M. Tony told me that his family made the transition from Caribbean life to Minnesotan life fairly easily—his father ended up working at Control Data and his mother at a health care company—but they always continued their tradition of elaborate Sunday Puerto Rican dinners. Tony Panelli’s first career was in graphic design, where he met his wife Heidi (an artist and graphic designer who got her start doing caricatures at Valleyfair and now also runs a t-shirt company.) However, as these two graphic designers thought about what they’d like to do as they raised their family (they now have three girls, age four and under), they realized that those Sunday dinners were so meaningful to them that they’d like to share them with the world.

“I just miss the food from Puerto Rico,” Tony Panelli told me. “And I think people would like it if they got to try it, gosh, it’d be neat to own a restaurant, and here we are! But it’s really a team effort. When you come in you’ll see the place has a much more festive look than it did before. That’s all Heidi’s doing.” Tony’s doing will be assembling the menu, which he tells me will include both classic home-style dishes like roast pork with rice and beans, as well more elaborate restaurant fare such as grilled marlin. Right now, Panelli tells me, he is having new restaurant equipment, such as a ventilating hood, installed in the kitchen so that he can do some cooking that couldn’t be done in the Jay’s space before, and that once the kitchen is fully operational, he will finalize the menu and likely roll out a suite of pan-Caribbean offerings from Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and so on.

The restaurant plans to offer breakfast Friday morning and all day Saturday till 2:30 p.m., lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The restaurant will be closed Sundays though, so Panelli can continue to have Sunday dinner with his family. So sweet! Like pineapple wine, which Panelli tells me will be one of the signature Caribbean drinks he’ll have on the restaurant’s beer and wine list. (No rum, sadly, and also, can the distributor who has the Red Stripe account in town please contact Panelli? He hasn’t yet had time to chase down that thread.) Opening date: Maybe mid-April? At this point it all depends on variables like construction and final city sign-off, which readers of this space know are as variable as they get. Still, it looks very likely that all the Minnesotans who have been missing Puerto Azul, which closed several years ago, will soon have a new Puerto Rican family spot to love.

Caribe Caribbean Bistro
791 Raymond Ave., St. Paul