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POSTED: February 6, 2012 5:23 p.m.
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Pierre Baptiste offers exotic fare at Caribbean Cuisine, his news restaurant in Savannah.

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Give up on your fantasies of street food coming to Savannah, or Georgia. Under the state's food code, it's virtually impossible to comply and make the kind of street eats us rabid foodies lust for while watching "Bizarre Foods" or "No Reservations."

Potential food truck operators are ham-stringed by the same regs, with the added challenge of truly not enough population density to support a rolling restaurant.

But in case you haven't been watching, alternatives have been evolving. Over the past several weeks, nearly every eatery I've written about is a mom-and-pop ethnic joint.

This business model reflects the challenges of food safety issues, but also is a result food service bank loans drying up. These small restaurants start for a few thousand dollars - money borrowed from family, friends or selling off old baseball cards.

The hundreds of thousands to a million bucks or more required for a ground-up build have to come from private investors (who are shying from the food business) or private resources - not the banks.

Obviously, it's a business for dreamers and believers.

One such dreamer, and the newest restauranteur in the city, is Pierre Baptiste. He opened Caribbean Cuisine last week in the high traffic shopping center at Hodgson Memorial and Eisenhower drives. He's parked right next door to long-running The King and I.

Baptiste worked 30-plus years for the city, and for most of that time bought restaurant equipment while planning to one day open his own restaurant.

I admire his tenacity and dedication. When I dropped in a couple of days after opening, Baptiste looked sharp in his white chef's coat and toque - but seemed a little dazed by the five-balls-in-the-air juggling act that owning and running a restaurant mimics.

To be fair, there are still some rough edges with service and side dishes. He's a very good cook - but cooking in volume isn't like cooking at home. Holding warm food is a challenge for even the most experienced chefs. Baptiste will get there.

On the bright side, the seductively tender jerked chicken was among the finest expression of that dish I've ever eaten. The jerk sauce was spicy without being hot, flavored without being overwhelming. I'll go back for more - and a half chicken next time.

I could have downed a half dozen Chicken Patties - a crumbly puff pastry filled with tender chicken that gave up just a hint of curry. I only had one, saving room for my jerked chicken, but was tempted by beef and vegetable patties.

There was an awesome looking cake under glass - but I also passed - and admired it like a kid looking at puppies in the pet store window.

Baptiste, and his peers who have recently joined the ranks of restauranteurs, deserve our attention and our business. This is the foundation of this city's ethnic street food.

Honestly, with our steaming summers, we should be grateful that we can get air conditioning with our peas and rice.

 

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