The Caribbean Restaurant. – Atlanta, GA – restaurant reviews
You feel good when you take your table at the Carribbean Restaurant in Atlanta. Reggae music is playing, the place is alive with color and energy, and the menu is an adventure looking for a palate.
This is not just any Caribbean restaurant. This is not a vague culinary tour for those who seek to sample the foods of the West Indies. This is food with a decided Jamaican accent, and the visitor can only wind up a winner, with a dish that’s spicy and succulent, the product of a kitchen that is honest and uncompromising.
The Caribbean Restaurant is a sunburst of a place, with redtrimmed windows and doors, yellow and green picnic-style booths, a tiled floor, and red French doors with purple columns. There are also paintings and posters depicting Jamaican scenes on the walls.
When Kingston, Jamaica, native Michael Richards first came to Atlanta, he hesitated before buying the restaurant from a friend, another Jamaican. Five years later, he’s glad he took the chance. “I haven’t had to get a job since I came here,” he says, laughing.
Located on historic Auburn Avenue (home also to the King Center, the first black-owned radio station and the oldest daily black newspaper), the Caribbean Restaurant has achieved a certain celebrity of its own. It is where, as they say, the elite meet to eat. Angela Bassett, Bobby Brown, Tisha Campbell and Shabba Ranks have dined here. But with all of its celebrity, the restaurant has not lost its feel for the common folk. Everyone dines here on plain red-and-white plastic tablecloths.
The true test of a Jamaican restaurant is in how well it prepares its jerk chicken, a tart, spicy-hot dish popular on the island. If it’s good — if it’s genuine — it is Jamaica, and this jerk chicken is Jamaica. Richards’ challenge is to make up for the fact that he doesn’t smoke the chicken over pimento wood as is done at outdoor stands on the island. He compensates by using his own concoction of jerk seasonings from Jamaica, a recipe that includes the devilishly hot, but tasty, Scotch bonnet chilies. In the end, nothing is lost — the dish comes off as a teary triumph.
Red snapper brown stew ranks with jerk chicken as one of the two most often ordered items on the menu. The stew is a showstopper: fillets or the whole fish smothered in a sizzling melange of green peppers, onions, tomatoes and a spicy brown sauce. (Customers can get the same dish with chicken or grouper.)
Conch comes in a variety of forms, all of them tasty and all of them popular. There is the mildly curried conch, served here with peppers and onions. And then there is the cracked conch, prepared in a light batter in bite-sized pieces and served with tartar sauce. Cracked conch can get tough when it is cooked too long or not beaten enough, but the Caribbean’s is just right.
The hearty entrees are served with a choice of yellow or white rice or peas and rice along with two vegetables. Spicy oxtail and chicken curry gravies are also available to complement a rice dish. Side orders include fried plantains, conch salad and veggie patties, as well as American fare.
Richards, who does most of the cooking, has particular favorites, some of which date back to his childhood. His coco bread, a longtime island staple that he makes from scratch, is delicious. He wistfully recalls the days when he and his friends would carry coco bread to school for lunch. “We’d open the bread up and put a beef patty in and eat it,” he says. “It was a quick to-go snack.” The restaurant also offers roti, an Indian flattened bread.
American desserts, such as carrot, lemon pound and red velvet cakes, are sinfully delicious, but visitors should try the scrumptious black rum cake when it’s available.
Beer is the only alcoholic beverage served here, but there are plenty of thirst-quenching nonalcoholic Caribbean drinks made fresh daily. The Caribbean’s heady and exhilarating ginger beer is popular. The restaurant also makes a drink called sorrel, which comes from a bush that blooms in the Jamaican fields only once a year, around Christmastime. “In Jamaica, you pick it fresh and boil it,” Richards explains. “Somebody picks it from a field over there, bags it, and ships it to us here so we can have it all year round. We get it dry, but once you boil it, it tastes the same” as fresh.
The Caribbean Restaurant has received good reviews in the local media, and the customers — ultimate critics — are often willing to stand in line and wait for a table or for carryout service. Their reward is not only the food; West Indian and African waiters serve the meals with apologies for the impatient and with a smile for everyone.
Gwendolyn Glenn is a freelance writer in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Her last article for American Visions, “Southern Secrets From Edna Lewis,” appeared in the February/March 1997 issue.
Island Bar and Grill 940 W. North Ave., Chicago, IL 60622 (312) 951-1700. This popular Windy City eatery offers Caribbean fare and flair, with an eclectic menu of Trinidadian, Cuban and Hawaiian dishes.
Cafe Gecko 5290 Beltline Road, Suite 118, Addison, TX 75240 (972) 458-9884. For those who like their Caribbean meals tinged with a little south-of-the-border flavor, this Mexican-Caribbean cuisine will surely tempt your palate. Conch chowder is the signature soup of this North Dallas restaurant. Elaine’s Kitchen 1912 Martin Luther King Blvd., Dallas, TX 75215 (214) 565-1008. Proprietor Elaine Campbell runs this 10-year-old restaurant known for its popular curried goat and jerk chicken dishes.
Captain Tony’s Key West Bar and Grill 3335 N. Woodward, Royal Oak, MI 48073 (810) 288-6388. Billed as Caribbean-New Florida fare, this restaurant’s cuisine consists of yummy tropical dishes that include lots of fruits and vegetables from such places as Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Babalu 1002 Montana St., Santa Monica, CA 90403 (310) 395-2500. Billed as “cross-pollinated island cuisine,” the fare here consists of Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Italian and Thai dishes. Jamaican Cafe 424 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 587-2626. This wide-ranging Jamaican restaurant serves the traditional (including jerk chicken; braised oxtails; curried chicken; goat and shrimp) and the nontraditional (such as smoked jerk Alaskan king crab legs).
Tap Tap 819 5th St., Miami Beach, FL 33139 (305) 672-2898. This is a Haitian-food lover’s paradise, complete with mural-covered walls depicting Haitian life and culture. (Dinner only.)
Palmer’s Jamaican Restaurant 135 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, LA 70119 (504) 482-3658. Best known for its popular Jamaican chicken and jerk fish, this restaurant also serves up tasty curried goat and fried plantains.
Bambou 243 E. 25th St., New York, NY 10003 (212) 358-0012. Only six months old, this restaurant is already gaining a reputation for its tasty bambou, consisting of crab cakes and shrimp, as well as its other specialties. Daphne’s Caribbean Express 233 E. 14th St., New York, NY 10003, (212) 228-6144. Nearly a year old, this mostly Jamaican-style restaurant serves up a mixture of eastern Caribbean dishes with a little American soul food thrown in for good measure. Island Spice 402 W. 44th St., New York, NY 10036 (212) 765-1737. Standard Caribbean cuisine — jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtails, Bajan kingfish and red snapper — is offered here and at Negril [362 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10011 (212) 807-6411], which is newer, more expansive and owned and operated by the same management.
Jamaican Jerk Hut 1436 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146 (215) 545-8644. Primarily known for its Jamaican cuisine, the hut features traditional jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk and curried shrimp and oxtails, and makes its own line of juices, including carrot and mango-orange.
Hibiscus 3401 K St. NW, Washington, DC 20007 (202) 965-7170. Husband-and-wife team Jimmie and Sharon Banks — of D.C.’s Fish, Wings and Tings fame — now operate this Georgetown restaurant whose cuisine is classified as “nouvelle Caribbean.” It now serves a Caribbean Sunday brunch. Negril on Thayer 965 Thayer Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910 (301) 585-3000. Of the two popular Negril restaurants in the metropolitan area, this one is favored for being more authentic, and no pork products are used in its food.
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