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Sweet & Spicy Caribbean Cafe

Garth McNeil, who is of Jamaican and Irish

Garth McNeil, who is of Jamaican and Irish heritage, is part of the family business at the Sweet & Spicy. His mother owns the restaurant. (Oct. 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Allison Davis O'Keefe

At this hyper-casual Jamaican spot, forget formality. Order at the counter, settle into a booth (or the single large round table) and enjoy the reggae that perpetually plays on the sound system. Your food will be brought to you.

This is a place for the adventuresome diner willing to forego some amenities for fare that's sturdy and comforting, much of it from a steam table. Service, while friendly, can be a bit disorganized. It's not surprising that carryout is big.


JAMAICAN JOYS

Chef Garth McNeil's curried chicken features bone-in pieces of poultry blanketed in a goldenrod-hued sauce that embodies the restaurant's name. Mellow, tender curried goat is almost (but not quite) its equal. On one visit, McNeil's jerk chicken is smoky, fiery, deeply nuanced. Another time, the smokiness is absent but the poultry still delivers on voltage.

I excavate every bit of sweet, tender oxtail meat off the little bones. Oxtail, as well as beef, turns up in the "stew peas," a hearty, satisfying melange of red kidney beans and meat.

What's in a name? Goat's head soup (also the name of a Jamaica-made Rolling Stones album) may put off the squeamish, but on a chilly day, it's hard to do better than this spicy, savory bowlful. It's made with goat meat, green bananas and yams. "I roast the head, then boil it for the flavor," said McNeil, who added that the brains are discarded beforehand.

If you're partial to light, eggy macaroni and cheese, the version here may be for you. Other worthy sides: crisp-tender cabbage, rice and peas and addictive fried plantains. Wash it all down with Jamaican ginger beer, a nonalcoholic treat.


CARIBBEAN CALAMITIES

Callaloo, a bitter green vegetable, is harsh stuff. Brown stew chicken, breaded, fried and sauced, makes for heavy eating. Also weighty: fried dumplings.

There was no fish to be had when I was there. No dessert, either.


BOTTOM LINE

The most expensive plate in the house is $11. That's a bright ray of Jamaican sunshine.

 

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