As a lover of adventurous, new cuisine, I’ve had my eye on Embermill for a while. Relatively new to State Street, Embermill is a Caribbean-Creole restaurant run by head chef Harold Welch, who moved to Santa Barbara from his home country of Barbados 25 years ago. As I approached Embermill, I was met with an incredible smell: their wood-burning oven. It almost sent me levitating to their door, like a cartoon character floating after the scent of a freshly baked pie. Many of their dishes, including their jerk chicken, are cooked in this oven, imparting them with deliciously unique flavor. The restaurant has a beautiful patio area for in-house dining, but also offers takeout if you’re not comfortable eating at the restaurant.
Embermill’s atmosphere is incredibly welcoming. The servers are friendly, the smell of the wood-burning oven is cozy and the plant life surrounding the patio gives it a serene vibe. I could sit and hang out with friends, or read a book there (exactly what our hostess was doing before we arrived, coincidentally) forever. I felt even more welcome once I received my menu. I can’t eat gluten or dairy (rough, I know) so when I saw that Embermill puts gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan markers next to their dishes on the menu, I was immediately at ease. Not only did I know exactly what I could eat, but the vast majority of their menu was both gluten and dairy-free, giving me an overwhelming amount of options.
My friends and I started out our meal with their pan-seared brussel sprouts, the fried plantains with a guava balsamic reduction and the goat cheese bruschetta. The brussel sprouts were some of the best I’d ever had. They were amazingly crispy and perfectly seasoned with a Creole spice mix. The fried plantains were great as well. The crisp outside and plush inside made for a great textural experience. The guava balsamic reduction tasted fantastic, and while I wanted a little more guava flavor, it’s acidic punch still complemented the sweetness of the plantains beautifully. While I couldn’t taste the bruschetta myself, it elicited myriad “wows” and “mmms” from my friends, who all lamented the fact that I couldn’t experience it with them.
Up next, our main dishes: curried goat, stewed oxtail and their jerk chicken. I was thrilled; I’d never tried goat or oxtail before and was ready for something new. Safe to say, they didn’t disappoint. The curried goat was fantastic. Fall-off-the-bone tender goat meat, with crisp vegetables in a powerful curry broth; it was an explosion of flavor. However, the oxtail was the highlight of the meal for me. Similar to the curry, it featured beautifully tender meat in a delicious broth, this time with a powerful red wine flavor reminiscent of French cuisine. I could have licked the bowl clean, and probably would have if they hadn’t brought out a side of rice and beans to soak up the broth. The jerk chicken was also explosively flavorful. I was amazed at how much flavor the wood-burning oven had imparted on the meat. It was a unique flavor I’d never tried before and elevated the dish over any jerk chicken I’d had in the past.
If you’re like me, mealtime is one of the best parts of the day in quarantine. Trying out a new, exciting restaurant can make that best part even better. Embermill is a fantastic option for takeout, or, if you’re comfortable with it, dining in. Their food is adventurous but doesn’t sacrifice any quality by trying to cook too far outside the box. Support a Black-owned business and try out Embermill!