Got goat?

In terms of atmosphere, entering Jamaican Restaurant the other night reminded me of that famous photo of Jamaican record producer Lee “Scratch” Perry sitting in front of Black Ark studios with a gaudy mural of the Super Ape album cover behind him and a goat wandering in the street. Showing a similar predilection for loudly colored murals, the restaurant’s interior is brazenly, and—depending upon your sense of taste—attractively, painted with the basic green, yellow and black of the Jamaican flag. And on the right wall, oranges, reds, blues and greens appear in a mural depicting the various foodstuffs purveyed, from mango and soursop to chicken, cow and goat.

Jamaican Restaurant offers most of the expected Jamaican standards such as curries, stews, “patties,” rice and peas, plantains and corn bread. The main attraction seems to be the dinner buffet ($12.99), which features a tomato-based West African beef stew, large pieces of jerk chicken, curry chicken, rice and peas (beans in American parlance) and salad. It’s nice that they offer the dinner buffet so that one can simply walk in, quickly fill up a plate, eat and run; but if you want to order something from the regular menu, something not offered on the buffet, be prepared to be switched immediately to island time.

I know we wouldn’t have had to wait long had we just got the buffet like all the other customers, but we didn’t really want it, for a couple of reasons. For one, when we arrived, a friendly dreadlocked guy introduced himself as the cook and told us we had to try the salmon, which wasn’t on the buffet. Second, the place offers the Jamaican classic curry goat—also not on the buffet—and to my way of thinking you just can’t go into a place that serves goat and not order it. So there we were. Waiting. After about 20 minutes, our waitress came up and told us, as if it were perfectly normal, that it would just be about 10 more minutes.

While we waited, however, we snacked on, as appetizers, a couple of the Jamaican “patties,” ($2.95) which are quite similar to English pasties. A tasty savory crust encased, in one, some lightly seasoned ground beef, in another a mixture of potatoes, carrots and other veggies. They were nothing to get excited over, but were good filler while we waited.

And generally it was worth the wait. Not surprisingly, the cook was right. The salmon was excellent (if just a bit over-sauced). Going by the name of Escovitch Fish ($10.99), the salmon arrived as an oversized steak smothered in a delicious fiery and slightly sweet tomato-based sauce garnished with red peppers and onions. You almost never see salmon steaks served in restaurants, I assume because people are squeamish about the bones and skin, but sometimes little things like the difference between a fillet and a steak become a welcome change from the predictable.

Of course, predictable is not a word I would use to describe curry goat ($10.50), since you just don’t see it often. And Jamaican’s rendition was quite good. Nice and spicy, with super soft and melted bits of goat, carrots, peppers and onions, it came, like the salmon, accompanied by rice and peas and curried veggies. The only thing I didn’t really like was the rice, which seemed to be low-grade converted rice cooked in a bit too much water.

But then, Jamaican Restaurant makes no attempt to sell itself as a high-grade-type place. In fact, it comes across as completely down home. Eating there feels not so much like eating at a restaurant, but like eating at your neighbor’s potluck dinner party. You sense that what they serve and how they serve it is just what and how they do it at home. Order chicken, you get bone-in thighs and legs. Order salmon, you get a thick cross-section. No fancy restaurant tricks to impress the customers, just old-fashioned Caribbean soul food like someone’s grandma used to make it.