It might be snowing now. But a Caribbean breeze is due to sweep into Walker’s Point fairly soon. That’s because a new restaurant called Mobay Cafe is slated to open at 1022 S. 1st St. That’s the longtime home of Chez Jacques and more recently Cocina 1022, which closed last year.
The cafe, named for Jamaica’s Montego Bay, will be owned and operated by Nadine Dixon, a native of Jamaica whose family owns and operates Irie Palace, a restaurant long recognized for its Jamaican fare.
"We have been serving Jamaican food there for many years," she says. "But I wanted to bring something different to the menu and really build awareness to more of the great offerings from other parts of the Caribbean. And I wanted to do it in a diverse neighborhood like Walker’s Point."
Dixon says, if all goes well, she hopes to open the doors to the public sometime in March.
Looking the part
Currently, Dixon says, they are in the process of repainting the interior of the restaurant, giving it a look and feel that conjures a Caribbean vibe.
"The Islands are known for bright, vibrant colors," she says. "And we’ll be incorporating some of those into the decor. We want people to really feel as if they’re eating at a restaurant somewhere in the Caribbean."
Guests can expect walls sporting yellow, turquoise and deep brown along with tropical-inspired patterns. The front dining room to the North of the bar will have a more casual, cafe-style feel. Meanwhile the main dining area will be a bit more formal. Dixon says there will also be a private dining room which will feature a mural painted by local artist Brandon Minga, featuring iconic figures from the islands.
A menu that spans the Caribbean
Dixon says dishes on the Mobay Cafe menu are likely to include specialties from Barbados, the Bahamas, St. Thomas and the Grand Cayman Islands along with Panama, a locale where Dixon’s great grandfather was born.
"There’s such a rich history there," she says, noting that the food of the islands has been influenced by a variety of cultures including India, Ireland, Asia and Africa. "And we really want to represent those flavors on our menu."
That will include familiar entrees, including jerk chicken and pork, curried goat and oxtails (priced between $8.99 and $15.99). But it will also include appetizers like Bahamian conch fritters and codfish fritters.
"In terms of how people eat in the Caribbean, most of our dishes lend themselves to breakfast, lunch and dinner," Dixon says, noting that codfish fritters are a popular breakfast item in Jamaica.
On Sundays, Mobay Cafe will feature a variety of those dishes, plus items like brunch porridge, steamed snapper fillets served with a choice of grits or johnny cakes, a deep fried dumpling popular in the Cayman Isles.
For dinner, there will be items like brown stew chicken, an aromatic (and often spicy) chicken stew that’s enjoyed throughout the Caribbean from Trinidad and Tobago to Belize and Grenada.
Dixon says they will also serve one of her favorite dishes (and the National Dish of Jamaica): ackee and saltfish, a dish made from salt fish combined with vegetables, spices and ackee, a creamy, buttery tropical fruit with a uniquely delicate texture.
Meanwhile, Dixon says she's envisioning a dining experience enhanced by the addition of live music.
"Trinidad and Tobago are known for steel drums, so I’d love to incorporate that for special occasions," she says. "But I’d also really like to showcase local artists at the restaurant, maybe once a month."
And, in the summer, when the Milwaukee winds more closely resemble those of the Caribbean, Dixon says she’ll also make use of the restaurant’s current back patio, as well as sidewalk seating in the front of the restaurant.
Mobay Cafe is about introducing guests to different flavors, different dishes," she says. "But we also really want to represent a really positive vibe to our customers."
As a result, she says, the Cafe will also feature a "positive vibes wall" where guests can leave their own positive vibes to share with others.
Mobay Cafe will be open for both lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday with brunch and dinner served on Sundays.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.