A Taste of the Caribbean & Soul Food pretty much has its menu right there in the name. This restaurant, a half mile east of Lafayette Square, is run by Inez Daly, a cook who was born in Guyana but traveled around the world before taking over the building that was formerly Garris’ BBQ.
The restaurant she opened in August is a humble place, but in it Daly offers dishes worth the short trek from downtown office towers. They include her takes on classic Jamaican dishes like curry chicken and snapper escovitch. Daly also has a good handle on basic soul food, putting out collards and gooey mac and cheese.
As a designated eater, I consider it my duty to discover food worth eating, whether it’s in a shiny fine dining palace, or a place with steel shutters, like this one. The promise of a spicy Jamaican beef patty and Ting red grapefruit soda means more to me than decor.
When our party of four descended on Daly and her assistant, there was one other customer in the place, waiting for takeout. At a low-volume place like this, I don’t assume that everything on the menu is available, and ask what’s good today. I was after snapper escovitch ($20). Daly said she had other fish like catfish and haddock ($11) ready to cook, but her snapper was frozen, and would take 30 minutes. We’ll have other dishes in the meantime, I said.
First up were golden Jamaican beef patties ($2.50), Tower Isle brand, from Brooklyn. The ground beef mixture inside the pastry was juicier and spicier than most I’ve had, which I appreciated. (Other Caribbean places will light you up with Scotch bonnet chiles, but here the patties were the spiciest part of the meal.)
Curried chicken ($11) was bone-in chicken stewed with potatoes, bright with turmeric, a hearty stew with plenty of flavor and mild spices. Curry goat ($14) offered similar spicing, but richer gravy from the long-simmered goat, served bone-in as well.
Oxtails ($14) came with plenty of richly beefy sauce, but the bone-in hunks of beef were chewy, needing more time in the pot to reach succulence. I also found fault with the jerk chicken wings ($9 for five), which had been grilled, leaving them dried out, then tossed in mild sauce. The wings, on the small size of the Buffalo wing spectrum, were served whole, including tips.
The Caribbean chicken wings were another story. Cooked fresh before being glazed with a chile-honey sauce, they were addictively tasty, riding the sweet-spicy border to happiness. I gnawed the edible edges off the wing tips, which is pretty primal even for me.
Dinners come with two sides. Rice and beans, braised cabbage and collard greens were all solid versions. A la carte sides included mac and cheese ($3.50) with plenty of Velveeta-esque cheese and macaroni that was soft but not mushy. Cornbread (75 cents), which comes in rectangular muffins, was sweet and cakelike.
When the snapper was ready, Daly brought it out, topped with sliced green and red bell peppers in a piquant brown sauce. Its crispy skin and moist flesh, easily detached from the fish’s skeleton, made it my favorite dish of the meal, piled onto rice with sweetly tender cabbage. We ate until only bones were left.
Bottled drinks include Caribbean flavors ($2) like Ting grapefruit soda in regular and pink, and kola champagne. Since Daly doesn’t have a liquor license, the only alcohol comes via the dense, spice-laden Caribbean rum cake ($3.50), soaked with a hefty shot of dark rum.
Despite its successes, A Taste of the Caribbean isn’t my favorite Caribbean spot in town. (Kalypso in University Heights is my standard for jerk chicken excellence.) But Inez Daly’s little place offers food worth meeting, including dishes that can provide a brief tropical detour from standard downtown fare. If curried goat and a head-on fish is too far out, the chicken wings will bring you back to Buffalo.
A Taste of the Caribbean - 6 plates (out of 10)
Humble place with Caribbean heart offers faraway flavors near downtown
WHERE: 200 William St., 424-2328
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 7 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $2.50-$10; dinners $10-$20.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.