"Evuh-ree ting eye-ree mawwn," my dining comrade deliberately sounded out in a neutral, and unintentionally hilarious, Arizona accent. He was reading a small sign posted on the colorful wall of this UCF-area Jamaican restaurant, and had it not been for the dishes we greatly enjoyed, the recitation might very well have been the highlight of the evening. Frankly, we didn't know what to expect. For one, the restaurant is in the eclectic, if run-down, University Oaks strip plaza. Maintenance and upkeep is clearly not the landlord's top priority. Then there's the restaurant's interior, which is only slightly better than that of the DMV – among Caribbean restaurants I've been to, only the now-shuttered Mama Millie's bucked that design trend.
That said, no DMV I've ever set foot in has had an enormous beach mural, or a vibe that was of the distinctly relaxed island variety, squeaky overhead fan and all. While chef-owner Mark Jathan wasn't present at the restaurant, his merry band of servers kept the mood light and cheery. So even though they were out of doughy, subtly sweet coco bread, biting into house-made beef patties ($1.99) and feeling the ooze of a spicy meat filling wash over my palate was a pleasurably familiar sensation.
Yes, the coco bread in which the patty was to be stuffed was missed, but those bready longings were soon gratified by roti served with curry goat ($8.99). Now, I've never been partial to the roti I often find in Jamaican (as opposed to Trinidadian or Guyanese) restaurants, mainly because the flatbreads are dusted with finely ground yellow lentils, resulting in a faintly gritty texture. Apart from that cavil, scooping up the plush and fatty pieces of goat lolling in a curry heavily essenced with turmeric was an utter joy – though even more gratifying was reveling in the oxtail stew ($11.99). The meat – supremely tender and deeply flavorful without being heavily spiced – comes served with dirty rice and peas and stir-fried cabbage. Get this.
If you fancy yourself a connoisseur of jerk chicken ($8.99), then you'll pat yourself on the back for making the trip to Mark's. The kick-ass rub is a highlight, but it didn't stop us from lavishing a bit of their house Scotch bonnet hot sauce on the bone-in chunks. Ting ($1.75), a carbonated grapefruit juice that's the quaff of choice when enjoying Caribbean eats, served as a soothing palliative. A counterpoint to all the boldly flavored dishes is the ackee and saltfish ($9.99). Ackee, Jamaica's national fruit, is boiled down, then sauteed with onions, seasonings and salted cod. The resulting hash looks like scrambled eggs (the ackee takes on a yellow color), but the flavors are mild and pleasant. The dish, while light on the cod, is served with a pair of boiled green bananas and a boiled dumpling (quite filling!) simply made with flour.
A slab of sweet and heavy coconut cake ($2) didn't exactly scream Jamaica as far as desserts are concerned. I mentioned how some rum balls or rum cake would be, in the words of Harry Belafonte, "fine any time of year." Right on cue, my dining comrade, now employing a proper faux-Jamaican accent, stood, cleared his throat and bade us farewell with the line "I'm sad to say, I'm on my way."
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