Welcome to the Jungle
By Nancy Powell
Xiomara Hall has a lot to be excited about. First off, she’ll pitch her sweet and zesty jerk sauce to industry execs on Lifetime’s Stacy Keibler-hosted Supermarket Superstars. Then, it’s on to Temecula’s Reality Rally and Taste of Temecula, both taking place month. For the present moment, Xiomara is content to showcase her gastronomic finds, food that she likes to eat and that she would also like for others to eat at her newly opened Tropical BBQ, where the menu changes as frequently as the experimentation bug bites her. This fast-talking woman with the giant personality and charm to match her even bigger foodie swag clearly understands how to mix all her spices together to tease and satisfy the palate.
The big thing at Tropical BBQ is smokehouse meats (a by-product of Xiomara’s Atlanta years) and the big, bold flavors of the tropics—Puerto Rico (her own nationality), St. Croix, Cuba and Jamaica being the main islands, mixed in with a little Curacao—done fresh, done in volume and sealed with a big, family-friendly stamp of approval. Xiomara’s Empanadas are a staple of her catering business, but these gargantuan half-moon shaped critters have the size and girth to fit my entire hand. She plumps them up with herbed ground beef or juicy bits of shredded chicken with carrots and sweet, sautéed onions. One is enough to put me in a near food coma, a duo-punch to sate the pre-dinner excitement.
Next up to the plate are her famous Jerk-Rubbed Ribs, smothered in an aromatically-pleasing barbecue sauce sweetened by pineapple and flecked with mild hints of earthy cilantro. A subtle, but palpable, heat peaks through the layers of fatty, silky slivers of fall-off-the-bone meat. This dish serves as the bread and butter of Xiomara’s enterprise and it doesn’t disappoint. The nearly half-rack of ribs combined with slices of pan-fried plantains (made sweeter by Xiomara’s guava sauce, an off-menu item that customers in-the-know ask for), black beans and rice easily feeds two moderately-hungry people and is a steal at $9. Xiomara uses the same seasoning rub and sauce combo on her Wings to mesmerizing effect. And when used in her Mac and Cheese, the result is not an overly-spiced bowl too hot for the kids, but a refreshing brightness that adds a pop.
Xiomara’s other big seller, especially during the lunch rush, is the Triple Play ($9.95), a smoky triumvirate of meats enhanced by house-made tangy chimichurri mojo and prickly mustard. Generous mounds of slow-roasted pulled pork, tender beef brisket and savory ham definitely make this one a keeper, if not the carnivore’s true, requited love. Tack on a side of Mom’s Dirty Rice (kernels of long grain rice topped by another mound of slow-cooked pork butt) for a double dose of heartiness.
The atmosphere is casual, the vibe laid back; yet for all the hard work that Xiomara puts into making Caribbean fusion accessible for the masses, there is a certain gastronomic genius she brings to the table that makes Tropical BBQ so much more than a well-deserved vacation from the kitchen. It’s a philosophy, a way of living that she wants the community to share.
“My life story is in that jerk sauce,” she tells me. And I believe her.
Tropical BBQ, 26684 Margarita Rd., Ste. 101, Murrieta, (951) 698-4124; www.tropical-bbq.com. D, MC, V.