March 14, 2006

Taste of Jamaica takes you to a ‘jerk-spiced heaven’

About three years ago, my best buddy Greg and I went to Jamaica. We didn’t get to take in as much of the local culture as we’d have liked, but we did get to sample a bit of Jamaican cuisine.During a stop on our way to Ocho Rios, we bought jerk chicken at a roadside stand and were a little taken aback when the cook basically beat the spiced chicken thighs with a hammer, crunching up the bones, before serving them to us in tinfoil.(We were even more surprised when he then propositioned us for prostitution on behalf of a woman sitting nearby. But I digress.)Anyway, the trip was a success and we drank enough Red Stripe beer to kill a small army. So as soon as I heard The Taste of Jamaica had opened in Louisville, I figured it was appropriate for Greg and I to go and re-acquaint ourselves with Jamaican cuisine.The restaurant is quite small, with only 10 tables or so and very little in the way of décor; an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” played conspicuously on a flat-screen TV overlooking the dining room. Additionally, our server wasn’t terribly responsive at first. But the menu at Taste of Jamaica is interesting, indeed — especially if you are unfamiliar with Jamaican fare. One expects to find jerk chicken and curry chicken, as well as seafood, but it isn’t often you get to stare down a menu and be greeted with entrees such as oxtails and curry goat.The seafood offerings are interesting as well; “fry fish” ($11.95) is made with snapper, dusted with flour and fried, then topped with bell peppers and onions on a bed of steamed rice. There’s also “ackee and salt fish,” which is sautéed in vegetable oil and served over steamed rice (also $11.95).Greg opted for the jerk chicken ($8.95) while I, feeling adventurous, chose the curry goat ($11.95). Not seeing any Red Stripe beer on the menu — or in the cooler filled with Jamaican classics such as ginger beer and coconut water — we decided on a couple of sodas. We also asked for an order of Jamaican dumplings ($1.99) as an appetizer.We sat watching “Raymond,” and a few minutes later the server walked past with another table’s Jamaican jerk wings, which we had briefly considered ordering but passed on (at just $3.50, we should have listened to our instincts). They smelled like jerk-spiced heaven.Our dinners took a little longer than we’d anticipated to be served, but the portions were large and the food looked and smelled delicious. For some reason, our dumplings came out with the meal instead of prior to it (one of my pet peeves); they were heavy bread balls, sort of like a cross between a hush puppy and cornbread. They proved useful in sopping up the generous curry sauce on my entrée.Greg’s jerk chicken was a mound of tender, moist white meat chicken cooked perfectly in generous portions of tasty jerk sauce that was zesty and spicy, but not necessarily hot. I got only one bite, but it was enough to know this must be one of the best things on the menu. Greg noted that he’d never had chicken more tender than that.My curry goat was also tender and nicely seasoned with curry — it was just enough to generate some cumulative heat but not enough to distract from the flavor of the meal. Excellent. It was my first taste of goat meat, and the best comparison I could make is to say it resembled pork roast, or perhaps pork ribs. (Yes, there were lots of bones, so if you order this dish, chew carefully).Meals also come with a side of fresh vegetables, which basically constitute a small side salad: shredded lettuce, shredded carrots and a tomato wedge. We each got an order of rice and “peas” (pinto beans) that were fairly bland until I added a few dashes of Eaton’s Jamaican hot sauce, which is on each table. Meals also come with a strip of fried plantain, which was good but would have been even better if cooked a little crispier.We both were stuffed when we finished. I asked the server, who became friendlier as the meal progressed, about the best thing on the menu. She said, “Everything.” I pressed her, and she finally offered a recommendation of the snapper for my next visit. It was duly noted (although avoiding that jerk chicken won’t be easy).We also joked with her on the way out that the only thing missing from the meal was Red Stripe beer — and at that point she informed us that they do indeed serve the Jamaican lager. (I’d recommend they get that on the menu as quickly as possible.)All in all, it was a good experience. The service could be a little better, and a little more Jamaican flair in the décor wouldn’t hurt, but I’ll go back again — the flavors far exceed the aesthetics.Taste of Jamaica is located at 2017 Brownsboro Road (the former home of Shemroun’s Persian Grill). Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Major credit cards are accepted. The dining room is small, but there is room and accessibility for patrons using wheelchairs. TOJ also does catering. For more information, call 896-1055.