September 16, 2009 9:54:00 AM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
You won''t hear him bragging, but Nathan Best may take a prize for remarkable restaurateur stories. The affable Columbus resident with a ready smile is a past member of the O''Jays and the Fairfield Four, a Grammy winner for his part in the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack, a pastor, a Christian supply store owner and purveyor of island cuisine at the Trinity Caribbean Café.
As a keyboardist and vocalist, the unpretentious Best has performed with musicians including B.B. King, Patti Labelle and George Benson, to name but a few. Marty Stuart sang at his father''s funeral service. Alison Krauss and many other recognizable artists are counted among his friends. His music has certainly taken him places, but it''s his faith that brought him to Columbus.
Best answered a call to pastor Bethesda Church, in the former East End Church College Street location, about three years ago. Stepping back from the music, he focused on what he felt deeply was his spiritual calling.
When he and his wife, Sherry, opened a Christian supply store in the strip of storefronts next to the Columbus Municipal Complex on Main Street in January, it wasn''t long before the Miami native added a modest sidewalk cafe. The enterprise has now expanded into a small eatery with a twist and gains new fans weekly. Jerk chicken, ocean front wings, Barbados sausage links, shrimp and chicken alfredo, monster salads and island tea share the menu with Best''s specialty sandwiches.
One big burger
The towering "O Brother, Where Art Thou" burger -- stacked with two thick patties fresh off the grill, double cheese and all the fixings -- is a monster sandwich with a playful name, drawing from its creator''s 2001 Grammy and CMA awards when the soundtrack won Album of the Year.
(As part of the Fairfield Four, Best was lead vocalist on the "Lonesome Valley" track from the movie''s score. In fact, the film''s three gravediggers were his bandmates. He was touring in Japan when the scene was filmed, "or there would have been four gravediggers," he said with a smile. Best is also seen in "Down From the Mountain," the "O Brother" concert DVD.)
"We don''t get our burgers already made," he stated. "We want them to be like your mother or grandmother might have made. And you can tell its been on a grill; you can taste the grill as soon as you bite into it."
A taste of the islands
Why Caribbean fare?
"I''ve traveled extensively with music, from Japan to Bermuda. I''ve been exposed to tropical settings all my life, including Cuban, Hawaiian and Haitian," Best explained. He and his wife are excited about introducing something a bit exotic for local palates. And, the theme helps remind them of Miami, their former home.
Jerk chicken is popular on the menu. Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica, in which meats are dry-rubbed or marinated with a spicy mixture traditionally applied to chicken or pork. With jerk spices, meat can be seasoned from mild to volcanic. Best serves it with peas and rice, mainstays in Caribbean cuisine.
The café''s large jerk chicken salad, made with a variety of greens, is another Trinity centerpiece. The couple plans to add curried goat, oxtail and plantains to the menu within the month.
Among the desserts are Sherry''s homemade key lime pie and 7 Up pound cake, as well as smoothies and a delectable banana pudding dessert prepared by "Miss Ora," a member of Bethesda''s congregation.
The café is becoming known for its island tea, a concoction made of seven fruits to set the taste buds jumping. It''s been so well-received the café now offers it by the gallon ($4.99 plus tax) for those who call ahead. Working with a Los Angeles-based company, Best is also exploring getting the drink placed in stores on a large scale.
"It''s not unusual for our customers to sit and stand around trying to figure out all of the ingredients in the tea," he grinned.
"We want to do anything we can to help you relax," said Best, commenting on the island and world music that greets customers when they enter the small, casual space. A large keyboard in one corner attests to the live jazz hosted on Friday evenings from about 7:30 until closing.
The café localted at 1611 Main St. is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In addition to jazz on Fridays, Monday Night Football is now on the docket, and Thursdays are "networking nights," when business people are specially invited to relax and swap business cards.
The Bests, who will soon celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, are looking forward to a new convection oven, as well as new furniture, signs the restaurant is filling its niche.
For Nathan, who serves as president of the Columbus Citizens Police Academy, there may be times when he misses the larger music world and travel, but he enjoys performing locally and embraces his church family and community role.
"I love this city," he stated. "I want to try to be a productive citizen. I really want to channel the things I''ve done into the city I live in."
Editor''s Note: The phone number of the Trinity Caribbean Café is 662-328-4190.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.