IF YOU GO
Where: Steelpan Rastarant, 825 Houston St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week
Price range: $4 flats to $16 for Trinity Pan
I want every restaurant that opens to stay in business forever, but I really want Steelpan to do well. It's a cool space, close to the office, the staff are all very friendly, and they serve Caribbean food.
It's been open three weeks, and I've been four times. In fact, I was the very first customer on opening day. No brag, just coincidence.
The restaurant, located on Houston Street in the space that used to be Joe Friday's and O'Heiney's, is owned by John Shoemaker. Shoemaker also owns JJ's Bohemia, which is around the corner on M.L. King Boulevard. The plan is to improve the courtyard area behind the two and create a shared-space environment, with JJ's providing live music and Steelpan being the place to eat.
Steelpan serves up pans that include an entree served with beans and rice or peas and rice, pizza slices (called flats), sandwiches, sides, salads and starters.
The pan dishes are served in the same aluminum pan they are cooked in. Flats and sandwiches also come in these dishes.
Entrees include Jamaican Jerked Coconut Chicken, served with pineapple and pepper kebabs; Curried Goat, served with sweet potatoes and sweet onions; Veggie Pan, with roasted sweet potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and onions with curry; Mojo Pan, with black pepper pork tenderloin and roasted vegetables; and the Trinity Pan, which comes with the above goat, chicken and pork meats and roasted vegetables.
There are three types of flats. The first comes with jerked chicken, bacon, peppers, scallions, mozzarella and cheddar. The veggie flat features jerked portabella mushrooms, roasted vegetables, mozzarella and cheddar. The final is the Mojo Flat, which has black pepper pork loin, refried black beans, pico de gallo, mozzarella, cheddar, lettuce and sour cream.
The sandwiches include The Cuban, with pulled pork, ham, banana peppers, pickles, Swiss cheese and Cuban mustard; Cuban Reuben, with pulled pork, ham, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Cuban mustard; and the Aruba Tuna Melt with albacore tuna, lettuce, tomato, cilantro and lime.
Sides are black beans, beans and rice, Haitian slaw, sweet potatoes and pineapple.
Starters are black bean hummus and Guadeloupe guacamole.
Salad offerings include a Sunflower Salad with mixed greens, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sunflower kernels; an Heirloom Tomato Salad with spinach, heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese; and a Jamaican BBQ Chicken Salad with Jamaican barbecue chicken, sweet corn, black beans, mixed greens and cherry tomatoes. You can add jerked chicken to any of the salads for an extra $3.
On my first visit, I had the Veggie Pan. As I mentioned, I was the first customer. The dish was good, but I missed the "wow" moment I expected. I had hoped for a little more spice.
The rice, black beans, mushrooms and sweet potatoes were all well prepared and tasted like, well, rice, black beans, mushrooms and sweet potatoes. The curry sauce was good, and perhaps I should have mixed it all together before eating it or added a little srarachi or other hot sauce.
On the next visit, I ordered Aruba Tuna Melt and the Cuban and split them with a co-worker. Both were good. I love a tuna sandwich and generally like it pretty simple and straightforward, but the cilantro and lime gave the tuna a light flavor that was worth revisiting.
The Cuban was tasty, also a wow sandwich.
On my third visit, I figured I needed to try Jerk Pan. Visually, it was a definite wow dish. In fact, I had to show it to several co-workers, and two of them headed over to Steelpan almost immediately.
Piled on top of the rice and beans were big chunks of chicken, crunchy red peppers and pineapple. The jerk rub on the chicken had a spicy flavor with a nice kick, though it tasted like the rub was more on the meat than in it.
On my last visit, I tried the Veggie Flat and an order of the black bean hummus, served with tortilla chips. Both were very good. The generous pizza slice had a wonderful blend of sweet and spicy flavors thanks to the jerked portabella. The hummus was topped with red peppers and onions. For $6, it was a great lunch and something I'll get again.
Everyone is very friendly and helpful. They are still working out some of the kinks, however. In week three, the phone was still not operational, and the credit-card reader was squirrely.
The place looks nearly identical to when it was Joe Friday's, but without the Alaska-themed items. Most everything was done with repurposed materials. Tables and chairs are made from thick slabs of wood. It is a very warm and comfortable place.
The folks at Steelpan are working some things out, but I like the start. Some of the dishes, like the Veggie Flat, are just right, and some, like the Jamaican Jerked Coconut Chicken I had, needed a little more time together.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@times freepress.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...