Jito started as a food truck three years ago and expanded to this sit-down location, attached to Cockpit Craft Distillery, in July 2021. Seeing how the pandemic restaurant closures have been going, they opened here with a model private membership, which means you have to join dinner. (The truck now only ships for members looking for private events.)
I was greeted at the hostess booth where I learned how with this model they think they can avoid having to shut down if ever the governor orders another shutdown. (“In a private setting, we can protect our constitutional liberties for our clients and staff,” they write with libertarian enthusiasm on their website. I was signing as Haywood Jablome instead, I end up going with my real nickname, I feel like the whole thing is kind of pointless, given that even Omicron, a crazy peak, didn’t result in any local shutdowns.
Anyway, this awkwardness aside, I’m ready to explore chef/owner (uh, uh, I mean private administrator) Tito Bercedoni’s “Persian-Rican” cuisine. It’s a coat rack representing his Puerto Rican heritage and his wife Stephanie’s Persian (Iranian to be precise). “It’s not a long bridge to cross,” he says, in terms of finding complementary flavors that pay homage to each style, which he says breaks about 60/40 in favor of Puerto Rican.
Tito mixes his own seasonings, using commercial Goya products like Adobo and Sofrito spices, but relies on them to incorporate Middle Eastern touches. Keep in mind that Puerto Rican food is not spicy, nor is Iranian, generally, but both rely on lots of spices. So, based on my limited tasting of a Bowl of rice and Persian-Rican Pita Breakfast, there’s a subtle fusion on display, nothing overt in terms of being able to knock out a spice predominately. I order the bowl with a mixture of half chicken, half steak (there’s also a vegetarian option), and it comes with habichuelas (Puerto Rican style pintos), basmati rice (a contrast to the typical white rice or Puerto Rican arroz con gandules), crispy hash brown strips and garnish with cilantro and tomatoes. Sofrito (Puerto Rican seasoning typically made with garlic, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro and/or culantro) is the primary flavor that is absorbed into chewy meats, spiked with plenty of salt, but the beans in one particular bite are their taste bomb of delight, adding the essence of cumin and oregano to the trick and a layering of flavors. Tito says the beans can be used in soups when served in their broth; I would totally go.
The pita puts the giant breakfast taco in unique territory, being a typical Middle Eastern bread that we expect with a falafel, gyro or shawarma. But here it has scrambled eggs, gooey melted cheese, bacon and sausage crumbs, sautéed peppers and onions and again a garnish of cilantro and tomato. The puffy wrapper works perfectly for the task (I don’t remember ever having had eggs on pita before) and the Puerto Rican-style adobo seasoning (garlic, pepper, oregano, and paprika) laces the filling ingredients, along with crisps side tortillas also sprinkled with a spice blend with a high smoked paprika content. In Puerto Rico, the side would almost certainly be plantains, tostones (fried green) or maduros (ripe fried), so I order a side of the maduros for a sappy-sweet finish. Ask for a side dish of Tito’s “Heavenly Salsa” to add more acidity and freshness to your dishes; it’s a crisp tomato taste, slightly sweet, without a spicy bite, unlike Puerto Rican prickwhich is a hot vinegary chilli sauce on the island.
Before I leave, Tito comes out of the kitchen, walks over to an acoustic guitar and amp in the front corner, and puts his heart into a beautiful song. I give one of the staff a “wow!” look and he says, “Yeah, Tito was an artist.” Yeah, he’s a rock star administrator.