Get your goat

It’s not every day I see goat on a menu, but then it’s not every day I go out for Jamaican food. It might happen more often, though, now that I know about Sweet Fingers. It’s in the location of the former Jamaica House but under new ownership.

The convenient location near the Tower Theatre makes this restaurant a good bet for a low-key night out, and the ambience is suitably relaxed. It’s a friendly space, with soothing deep-sea-blue and cheerful golden-yellow walls, alluring beach scenes, and—as is apparently obligatory in all Jamaican restaurants—the benign visage of Bob Marley overseeing it all.

Service, too, is pleasantly laconic. On entering, we were waved to sit anywhere, and orders were taken piecemeal—appetizers first, presumably so the kitchen could get a jump on them, and then a second trip for our main dishes.

We did get a couple of appetizers, but once we saw the size of the entrees and their copious accompaniments, we realized the appetizers were far from necessary. I liked the warm beef patty. It was a small meat pie, like a flat pasty, with a turmeric-yellow crust and a subtly spiced filling. The crust was ever-so-slightly tough—possibly the result of its penultimate resting place under a heat lamp—but the pie was tasty, especially with a dash of vinegary hot-pepper sauce.

We also liked the jerk chicken wings, though they were nowhere near as incendiary as some interpretations. These were hot in temperature rather than piquancy, cooked to order and accompanied by the namesake savory brown dipping sauce, redolent of allspice. They were nice and juicy—in the case of one woefully undercooked specimen, quite a bit too juicy.

Meanwhile, our drinks had arrived and were occupying a goodly share of our attention. Sweet Fingers doesn’t have its liquor license yet—though it should arrive any day, our server said—but it has a delicious assortment of nonalcoholic options. My huge glass of spicy, house-made ginger beer was nothing like the fizzy commercial concoction of high-fructose corn syrup that calls itself ginger ale these days. This cloudy, uncarbonated, barely sweet drink was pungently gingery; you could see tiny bits of the fresh stuff floating around.

Meanwhile, my husband—who favors drinks on the sweet and fruity side—had a mixed-fruit smoothie that answered that description perfectly. Both drinks made me wish I’d brought the airline-serving-sized bottle of rum a friend brought me from her trip to Havana. Instead of a spike of Cuban hooch, the smoothie got a squirt of canned whipped cream, served tableside with a humorously incongruous flourish by the chef. His outfit was perfect: He wore a chef’s jacket, but instead of the traditional white toque, he sported an equally tall knit Rasta cap.

Chef Clive, as the menu refers to him, offers a number of traditional Jamaican dishes, including curry chicken, oxtail and various jerk options. The description of the “Mama Mia” sautéed chicken brags that the chef “can’t tell you the ingredients, no matter how much you beg to know.” The description was certainly tantalizing, so my husband ordered it. The flavors were indeed hard to place. The tender chicken mingled with lima beans, carrots and other vegetables in a mild but mysteriously savory sauce that tasted of long-cooked herbs and spices.

Like all of the dinner entrees, the chicken came with a big scoop of flavorful rice and beans, fried plantains, an unremarkable salad and disappointing corn bread. The latter had a sweet, slightly soapy taste and a soft cakey texture, with no hint of cornmeal’s pleasing grit. It seemed to have been made from a mix. Entree prices range from $12.99 to $15.99 at dinner; at lunch, you get everything but the salad and corn bread for just more than half the price.

My curried goat was delicious, a huge portion of tender braised meat, which practically fell off the bone in shreds amid the mild yellow-curry sauce. For the uninitiated, goat is similar to lamb, but with a more unctuous texture and with much smaller, sharper bones that unwary diners may find somewhat dangerous. I could only finish half of the huge, rich portion. I also nibbled at the plantains and found them surprisingly enjoyable, especially with a dousing of hot sauce.

The dessert menu is short, running to starchy pies and puddings. I overheard our waitress describing the navy-bean pie to another table, and she was so enthusiastic, I had to try it. The pie would be improved by homemade crust, but it wasn’t bad—much better than you’d expect for a pie made with beans. The smooth, caramel-colored filling was quite sweet, with a yummy hint of the flavor of sweetened condensed milk. Still, I think next time I might go for the more familiar sweet-potato pie.

I’d also like to try the menu’s seafood dishes, which sound interesting and innovative, but I’ll go back to Sweet Fingers simply for the array of flavors you won’t find in many other places. The little missteps in the food could be corrected with a bit more attention to detail, but that might not be compatible with the relaxed spirit that is one of the restaurant’s charms.