Boogaloo’s Half House-Smoked Jerk Chicken, $14.95
When a restaurant identifies its cuisine as Cuban meets Creole with a bit of Caribbean flair, one thing is for sure: bland is not an option. Combining the array of aromatic spices with dashes of ingredients that offer a little kick, Boogaloo in Maplewood offers an approachable menu featuring recognizable items with their signature touches.
A highlight for the establishment, besides its bar swings, of course, is undeniably the Boogaloo smoker. Meats are dry rubbed and slow smoked in both apple and hickory wood. Brisket, pulled pork and ribs are local favorites, but the jerk chicken caught my attention immediately. Jamaican jerk spice, like many other marinades, is always subject to personal interpretation, but the overall composition is that of allspice, peppers, clove, nutmeg, garlic and salt. I recall as a child my father attempting this dish after he and my mother returned from a vacation to Jamaica. My inclination is that he was a bit heavy-handed on the spice rub because I tend to expect jerk-spiced dishes to be fiery enough to overpower the flavor. Not so at Boogaloo. Their rendition is a blend of savory, spicy and sweet. With each fall-off-the-bone bite, you can taste the layers of flavor.
Burgans Albariño, Spain, $9 by the glass
When working with smoked meats and intricate flavors, it is important to not overcomplicate your wine pairing. Fresh, zesty and crisp Albariño from Spain is a delightful alternative for warm-weather sipping. Tropical notes of the wine are complementary to the sweet Cuban rice and creamy plantains that accompany the chicken. Spanish bodegas owner Gerardo Méndez was once quoted as saying, “With Albariño, when you eat, the wine disappears; when you drink, the food disappears.” Although we talk so extensively about finding the perfect melding of food and wine, this idea holds a real truth. We want to be able to taste the food, and we want to be able to enjoy the wine. If neither are running interference with the other, I call that a success as well.
Firesteed Pinot Noir, Oregon, $9.50 by the glass
Choosing the right red for a more piquant dish can be a tad tricky. Although we want to enhance the flavor of the jerk chicken, we need to be careful not to explode the spice. Higher-alcohol-content reds can provide an accidental mishap in pairings. The “hotter” wines (a term used for wines with above-average alcohol percentages) will likely over-accentuate the heat in the dish, creating an offsetting and unpleasant match. Keep to fruit-driven, jammy reds with softer tannins that will both stand up to the complex flavors and excite the palate in its own right.
Perennial Southside Blonde, St. Louis, $5.50 by the pint
You can never really rule out beer as a perfect pairing for any meat coming from a smoker. A natural hand-in-hand pair, a refreshing brew with spiced, smoked chicken screams summer. Fortunately, we can revel in this matchup year round at Boogaloo. Although many of the seasonal beers played nicely with the jerk chicken dish, I opted for a draft that is offered all months of the years. This local Belgian Blonde is crisp yet fruity, a delightful contrast to the dish while nuances of sour citrus and perceptible spice find similarity.
Boogaloo, 7344 Manchester, Maplewood, 314.645.4803, boogalooswings.com
Every Wednesday, STLwinegirl Angela Ortmann helps you navigate wine and beer lists at restaurants around town and suggests the best by-the-glass pairings with certain dishes. Through her event and consultation business, she is dedicated to enhancing your food and wine experience. Missed one of her columns? Check them out here.