Caribbean Circle floats island flavors in Coral Springs

Generous portions at Caribbean Circle in Coral Springs. Photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.
Generous portions at Caribbean Circle in Coral Springs. Photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.

A bite of spice-rubbed grilled jerk chicken with a Red Stripe will lift you to Jamaica at Caribbean Circle Grill N’ Tingz in Coral Springs. 

It is a family-run place, clean and cheerful with made-to-order dishes like curry tofu, steamed snapper and Rasta vegetable stew. 

This is hearty, homestyle fare: fried chicken, curry goat, braised oxtails and stewed peas that come with sides such as fried or boiled dumplings, fried festival (cornbread), cod fritters and bammy bread wafers made from grated cassava that are soaked in milk and pan-fried or steamed.

Partners and brothers Hans Mullings Sr. and Jeremy Mullings run the restaurant, which they opened in February, after they couldn’t find Jamaican food in their neighborhood. Various family members help out, including Hans Mullings Jr., the nephew of the brothers. Hans is not a typical Caribbean name, but Alfred Mullings, the brothers’ father, had studied agriculture in Germany and liked the name. 

The family arrived in South Florida in the mid-’80s, when Jamaica was unstable. The Mullingses used to run a plant nursery in Kingston but are from St. Ann and St. Mary parishes near Ocho Rio. 

The brothers hired Allan Plowright as the day chef and Dexter Hinds as the evening chef. Both went to culinary school in Jamaica and worked at Sandals and on cruise ships. Jeremy Mullings studied business at Florida Atlantic University and is a planning consultant for the Department of Transportation and also runs Euro nightclub in Fort Lauderdale with his brother. 

Start the day with a bowl of porridge made with a blend of oats, cornmeal and green banana mixed with condensed milk, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, or the national dish of Jamaica: salt fish and ackee. The fish is soaked and shredded dried salt cod, and ackee is a tree fruit that bursts out of a scarlet pod resembling and tasting like soft scrambled eggs. They’re sautéed with onions, black pepper, Scotch bonnet chile and tomato. 

Or try spicy calves’ liver and callaloo, also known as “elephant ears.” They are the heart-shape leaves of the taro tuber and taste like spinach. 

Soups can make a meal here, too. Try red bean soup with yellow yam and oxtail, or chicken and pumpkin, both rib-sticking. Mannish water is goat soup made with the head, feet and organs and seasoned with thyme and scallions. 

Entrees include brown stew chicken, snapper or tofu in a flour-thickened gravy made with soy sauce, scallions, garlic, ginger and peppers. Snapper is also escoveitched, or dredged in flour, lightly fried and then pickled in white vinegar with allspice berries, peppers and onions. 

Other seafood options are a grilled salmon fillet, curry shrimp or lobster tail, or a mix of sautéed scallops, shrimp and lobster. 

Jerking is a style of grilling over pimento wood with the meat marinated in a spice paste overnight before being grilled over indirect heat. The paste has crushed allspice, Scotch bonnet, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper and bay leaves, turning black as the sugars bubble and burn over heat, imparting deep flavor.

Try the jerk wings, chicken or succulent slabs of pork with rice and peas, roast corn, stir-fried cabbage or coleslaw. Besides Red Stripe, there’s non-alcoholic ginger beer, coconut water, Ting (grapefruit soda) and super-sweet Jamaican Kola Champagne. 

The only dessert is rum cake, and it often sells out.