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Humboldt and Water streets meet at a four-way stop. Not just any four-way stop but one of the busiest crossroads in the city. Condos, cars, pedestrians attached to little fur balls on leashes, cars, the Milwaukee River. Did I mention cars? On the northwest corner of this intersection sits Good Life. What a fitting name […]

Humboldt and Water streets meet at a four-way stop. Not just any four-way stop but one of the busiest crossroads in the city. Condos, cars, pedestrians attached to little fur balls on leashes, cars, the Milwaukee River. Did I mention cars?

On the northwest corner of this intersection sits Good Life. What a fitting name for a business in a gentrifying neighborhood. The new Caribbean place became the beneficiary of a development marrying something old and something new – a 2,000-square-foot, curved-roof structure linked by breezeway to the tiny 1935 red-brick Ward Yard building. It’s a smooth-looking transition. The lofty dining room has glass “walls” on three sides and makes generous use of metal and wood.

The look doesn’t say “Caribbean” as much as it says stylish. Co-owner DJBrooks (whose name may be familiar from his days in the band Citizen King) mixes mojitos and sangria, while his wife, Cassie, is out on the floor, managing the in-and-out flow of diners. Plantains, sweet potato chips, “drunken shrimp” (sautéed in tequila tomato sauce), pulled pork sandwich – the island menu is chef Michael Morton’s realm. The restaurant was very new when I visited in September (a few weeks old) and, from most standpoints, it seems promising. The service was rough (expected); the food inconsistent (tepid more often than not; plantains moist and flavorful one visit, dry the next). But I noted some bright flavors. The veggie cakes appetizer has the makings of a winner. Leaving an echo of spice on the tongue, the three dense squash-like patties, with crunchy pieces of cashew, came with a cooling mist of thin cucumber aïoli ($7). The grilled shrimp and veggie skewers were dry but had an appealing rum “fruit glaze” ($12).

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In Trinidad, the locals make a sandwich called “shark and bake” – fried bread and shark meat. It’s a little different here, where the fried catch is breaded cod and the bread a flatbread crossed with a tortilla. It’s very tasty wrapped up with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, mango salsa and garlic mayo ($12). Moist seasoned chicken breast kept the jerk platter buzzing. Most everything else on the plate drew me in – the coconut rice, mild cooked red beans and sweet roasted Cuban corn ($10 plate; $14 platter). Mango mahi mahi was flaky and mellow, a little bland – something the smidgen of mango salsa and pomegranate reduction couldn’t fix ($12). By my latest visit, they were serving a dessert – fudgy chocolate habanero cake topped with mango, kiwi and red grapes ($6).

The neighboring housing developments kept this restaurant from having a quiet opening. That’s happening with increasing frequency in dense traffic areas. I hope it doesn’t prove a burden for a restaurant trying to find its way.

Good Life, 1935 N. Water St., 271-5375.
Hours: daily 4 p.m.-12 a.m. ­
Prices:
appetizers $6-$12; salads $9-$10; sandwiches $8-$12; entrées $9-$14; desserts $6.
Service: getting up to speed.
Dress: casual.
Credit cards: M V A DS.
Nonsmoking section: yes.
Handicap access: Call ahead.
Reservations: for six or more.

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