Jamaican Me Happy

Jacksonville, as it turns out, is teeming with Caribbean restaurants - but one of the newest to arrive on the scene has got my goat - um, I mean, vote. 

Actually, I mean goat. Curry Goat. And Stewed Oxtail, Curry Chicken, Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaican Beef Patty, Plantains, Festival, and the list goes on. 

Caribbean House Restaurant opened in February - taking over the property once briefly occupied by Bungalow on Park - a well liked but short lived operation whose demise left more than a few of us wondering how people can get a place opened but can't stay in business, despite good food and a halfway decent location.

Curry Goat - small lunch portion - $7.95
Caribbean House seems to have made a solid start - with good food, simply prepared, reasonably priced, and friendly, fast service. It's like good, soulful home-cooked food, if your home is Jamaica. 

Curry Goat - when I saw this was on the menu I made a beeline to the place. Let me tell you - they knock it out of the park! Succulent and tender - old school preparation - chunks of bone-in goat with an assertive but not overpowering curry, accompanied here by white rice and an oddly pedestrian vegetable melange.

My first lunch at Caribbean House also included a sampling of Green Banana - (presumably a young plantain) which was more grey than green, tasting like nothing more than starch, and looking like a dis-membered, well, member, on the plate. I've cropped this pic to feature the goat, but you can see the odd bit protruding upper left. While I prefer the sweet ripe plantain in all its various presentations, I have come to understand and appreciate the prevalence of bland, starchy foods in the Caribbean diet. One needs something to balance the Scotch Bonnet, jerk, curry and other bold flavors.

Stewed Oxtail, Steamed Cabbage, Macaroni Pie
Menu items at Caribbean House may change from day to day based on availability and demand. Entrees can be ordered in small, medium or large portions, and accompanying sides are your choice, and there are many options. One I recommend you do not miss is the cabbage - this is NOT your mama's steamed cabbage (unless your mama is a jammin' Jamaican cook). 

Stewed Oxtail - $6.95 small portion (shown here) - had me eating like a wild child - with both hands and my whole face involved. It was all I could do to order anything else once I tasted these. I'm going back for dinner to get a couple large portions as take-out. Accompaniment here is the Macaroni Pie (a custardy mac and cheese, basically) and that awesome Steamed Cabbage. I am still raving about this simple yet delicious meal.

I'm not a fan of Jerked anything, so when I was in the mood for chicken I went back to the curry, despite having already sampled the Curry Goat. 

Curry Chicken, Steamed Cabbage, Fried Plantain
Curry Chicken  $7.95 medium lunch portion (shown here) lets the curry shine through. Moist chunks of chicken (some breast meat, some back and thigh, bones and all) are coated with a pungent yellow curry. 

I found myself wishing I had ordered some rice to sop it up. And there was that cabbage. Wilted just enough to move from crunchy to cooked.  Fried Plantains were appropriately sweet.

I've never been to the Caribbean, but this next dish seems like something I grew up eating.
Ackee and Saltfish is known as Jamaica's national dish  (I Googled it - ours is hamburger, hot dog, apple pie)... So we get MickeyD's, while Jamaicans get the fruit of the Ackee tree, boiled and sauteed along with prepared salt cod, possibly with peppers and onions (although none noticed in Caribbean House's preparation). I loved the tender, pillow-soft Ackee fruit (tastes a little like scrambled egg) and the salty bits of fish.

I would have liked some fresh scotch bonnet or even some onion and green pepper with it, but I doused it with hot sauce (the way my mom eats eggs - and just about everything else, come to think of it) and it was delish.

Boiled Dumpling
Accompaniments this time were more of the bland and starchy variety - Yellow Yam tastes like its cousin the potato, and Boiled Dumpling is a thick, doughy disk the size, shape, and roughly the same consistency as a hockey puck - and I was assured this is just the way they serve it in Jamaica. 

I'm not sure if it is cassava based, or what, but the taste was bland and the texture just really didn't work for me. I felt a little like a tourist in my own town, and I tried to justify it as culinary research.

I was able to slice into the thing with my knife, and gamely sampled a few bites. Let's just say I won't be ordering it again. The yam, however, was a more familiar, foodlike texture, and just the right taste to offset the saltiness of the cod. 

I'm coming back for more Ackee and Salt Fish at breakfast, but it made a lovely light lunch, outside in the courtyard. 

And because this meal was so light (dumpling excluded), I was able to fit in a slice of Blueberry Cheesecake. Wow. Just. Wow. 

Before I forget - WHEN you visit Caribbean House, be sure to sample one of their daily special fresh juices. 

Pictured is the Cucumber - a sweet green refresher. I can also recommend the Ginger Beer - way better than Ginger Ale, and you won't miss the bubbles - this one has an effervescence all its own. 

Caribbean House is open Sunday through Thursday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Friday breakfast and lunch only, and closed all day Saturday.  It's definitely worth checking out! See you there, Beasties. 

Caribbean House Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Caribbean House Restaurant
2782 Park Street
Jacksonville, FL 32205


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