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Going to South OBT to dine in a strip mall can be kind of like going to another country. But don't be fooled; behind the surplus of fast-food restaurants on the Trail lurks a hidden culinary culture and we found a new adventure -- Bon Appetit is an epicurean experience in every sense of the word.

Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

"You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

"You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

"No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

"No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

"How about you try me?" he asked politely.

"How about you try me?" he asked politely.

I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

"OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

"OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

Bon Appetit is a must for the epicurean adventurer. You can even bring along those disturbed individuals who will only eat fried mozzarella sticks and still have an authentic ethnic dining experience. And if you're lucky like me, they might even seat you with a Haitian admirer.

A Jamaican restaurant in Apopka? I suppose it won’t be long before we’ll be gorging on lutefisk and köttbullar in a Swedish bistro in Pine Hills. Yes, a Jamaican joint nestled in a strip mall in the heart of Fern City may seem unlikely, but C & C has been garnering some low-key buzz among Central Florida Caribs since opening three years ago. Is it worth the drive to Apopka? That all depends on your proximity to Pine Hills, where a majority of the area’s best Caribbean cuisine can be had.

Not to say the food here isn’t on par with establishments on West Colonial Drive or Silver Star Road – it is, and the décor is certainly on equal footing. Walls are swathed in requisite yellow-and-green and bear obligatory photos of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie. Head-bopping is a foregone conclusion, given the infectious reggae-driven vibes resounding from the boombox near the counter. On weekends, the five additional speakers lying in wait are put to use and the restaurant transforms into C & C music factory.

Owner Clifton Campbell’s initials light up the restaurant’s marquee, though the letters could also stand for Cabbage & Codfish or Curry & Chicken. The chicken, by the way, is best enjoyed curried or jerked, not fried, as I ordered the chicken gizzards ($3.49). The little orbs of bird belly were too crisp and too rubbery a chew for my liking, though the fault lay squarely on my palate, not the kitchen.

Beef patties ($1.50) and jerk chicken ($6) are the sine qua non of Windies cuisine, and both are deftly prepared here. The spicy patties, though not the best I’ve ever had, were appetizing and tinged with a hint of sweetness. I only wished they were a bit more substantial and flakier. The chicken, jumped-up with peppery (and addictive) jerk seasoning, turned my meal into a ravenous affair, the juicy slabs of chicken packing a savory wallop. It’s one of those dishes you want to devour bone-clean, no matter how full you are, but the side of fluffy rice and peas (aka red beans) and springy cabbage-and-carrot slaw made it a difficult endeavor. Diners can also opt to enjoy any of their dinners with traditional hard dough bread, a loaf with a mass and consistency similar to pound cake.

Goat soup ($3) contained more bones and fat than meat, but the piping hot broth was propped up by yams, potatoes, carrots and a Scotch bonnet zing, making for a splendid succession of slurps. The curried goat ($6.50) made up for the soup’s ruminant deficiency, but sucking the wondrously gelatinous marrow out of the bones provided the most enjoyable moments.

Other specialties like cow foot, jerk pork, oxtails and red snapper escovich are offered, as is Jamaica’s national dish – ackee and codfish – for breakfast. The decision to include chicken wings on the menu may have been precipitated by the wing joint next door, though there’s no telling how many customers they’ve managed to attract from the other side. Fresh cane juice is, sadly, absent, as are desserts, though a bottle of Ting ($1.50), a tart grapefruit beverage, and a side order of sweet caramelized plantains ($1.99), proved to be worthy substitutes.

As expected, the friendly waitstaff are about as relaxed and laid-back as patrons in a Dutch café, and the handful of tables is often filled with regulars, most of whom get together, then feel all right.

Foodwise, our corner of the state is a lot more diverse than meets the eye. You could dine at Applebee's every night for a fortnight and never eat at the same restaurant twice, true, but if you venture off the beaten track even a little in Central Florida you are bound to come across some surprises.

Caribbean Queen Cuisine, a no-frills, family-run restaurant on the west side, is such a place. If you are hungry for a taste of the islands, but one of those all-inclusive package pig-outs to Jamaica isn't in the budget right now, stop by. It will be the cheapest culinary tour you've ever taken.

Caribbean Queen Cuisine, a no-frills, family-run restaurant on the west side, is such a place. If you are hungry for a taste of the islands, but one of those all-inclusive package pig-outs to Jamaica isn't in the budget right now, stop by. It will be the cheapest culinary tour you've ever taken.

Tucked way in the corner of the Park Promenade mall, the place is easy to miss. (The location gets bonus points with this writer for being next door to a Goodwill store, where I nabbed two bitchin' dress shirts for $7. Score!) In fact, my wife predicts the location will doom the place.

Tucked way in the corner of the Park Promenade mall, the place is easy to miss. (The location gets bonus points with this writer for being next door to a Goodwill store, where I nabbed two bitchin' dress shirts for $7. Score!) In fact, my wife predicts the location will doom the place. Which would be too bad, really, because for the price ($5) I can't remember a better plate of curried goat. I'm a big fan of goat. For the uninitiated, goat meat tastes just like a goat smells. You'll love it or you'll hate it, but if you're going to eat Jamaican (or Indian) food, you'd better at least be prepared to try it. Which would be too bad, really, because for the price ($5) I can't remember a better plate of curried goat. I'm a big fan of goat. For the uninitiated, goat meat tastes just like a goat smells. You'll love it or you'll hate it, but if you're going to eat Jamaican (or Indian) food, you'd better at least be prepared to try it.

Goat can be tough, but this serving was tender, and smothered in a rich sauce that could have used more curry. Goat can also be bony, and this serving was indeed bony. You've got to be patient to eat a goat.

Goat can be tough, but this serving was tender, and smothered in a rich sauce that could have used more curry. Goat can also be bony, and this serving was indeed bony. You've got to be patient to eat a goat.

We also tried the oxtail ($5), which is exactly what you think it is: the tail of an ox. No, they don't just plop the whole thing, sausage-like, on your plate. They cut it into sections at the joints, so what you're left with are bone discs containing small cavities of dark, succulent meat. (You also have to be patient to eat an ox's tail.) It came in a rich, red sauce that only hinted of the fiery peppers found in jerk dishes.

We also tried the oxtail ($5), which is exactly what you think it is: the tail of an ox. No, they don't just plop the whole thing, sausage-like, on your plate. They cut it into sections at the joints, so what you're left with are bone discs containing small cavities of dark, succulent meat. (You also have to be patient to eat an ox's tail.) It came in a rich, red sauce that only hinted of the fiery peppers found in jerk dishes.

Both dinners came with sides of rice and peas, a cabbage salad and a fried knot of sweet dough they called a dumpling. It was a huge amount of food for the price.

Both dinners came with sides of rice and peas, a cabbage salad and a fried knot of sweet dough they called a dumpling. It was a huge amount of food for the price.

We also tried the Jamaican beef and jerk chicken patties, which are kept in a warming oven on the counter. If you like meat pies, you'll like these soft pillows of dough stuffed with beef, jerk chicken or vegetables. They're incredibly filling, and incredibly cheap at only $1 each.

We also tried the Jamaican beef and jerk chicken patties, which are kept in a warming oven on the counter. If you like meat pies, you'll like these soft pillows of dough stuffed with beef, jerk chicken or vegetables. They're incredibly filling, and incredibly cheap at only $1 each.

As for décor, well, there just isn't much to write about. There's green carpet on the floors, wood paneling on the walls and lots of tables, most of which were empty the night we visited. The place is clean and unassuming. And did I mention cheap?

As for décor, well, there just isn't much to write about. There's green carpet on the floors, wood paneling on the walls and lots of tables, most of which were empty the night we visited. The place is clean and unassuming. And did I mention cheap?

So here's the drill: Stop in, grab a Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda) from the cooler and a beef patty from the counter, then order a plate of something you've never tried before. Dinner will be ready about the time you've polished off that patty. You'll get a lot of food, change for a ten and a trip to the islands, for your stomach anyway.

Jamacian bakery and rill serves island fare to the masses, most notably patties, those staple semicircles of flaky goodness. The spicy beef, fish, and veggie varieties are decent, though not great. What is great is the curried goat, an exotic dish with fatty pieces of meat lolling in rich, luxuriant gravy. Also worth a try is the braised oxtail and jerk chicken.


Teaser: Jamaican bakery and grill serves island fare to the masses, most notably patties, those staple semicircles of flaky goodness. The spicy beef, fish and veggie varieties are decent, though not great. What is great is the curried goat, an exotic dish with fatty pieces of meat lolling in rich, luxuriant gravy. Also worth a try is the braised oxtail and jerk chicken.

In an area replete with mom-and-pop eateries specializing in Jamaican, Guyanese and Trinidadian fare, it may seem a bit out of place to focus attention on a fast-food chain. Then again, Caribbean fast-food chains are somewhat singular entities themselves, and foodies unfamiliar with the cuisine will find this spacious bakery and grill a proper initiation to island fare.

Of particular note are the Jamaican beef patties ' those staple semicircles of flaky goodness sold on streets from Kingston to Spanish Town. Golden Krust takes great pride in their signature patties, offering nine different varieties from traditional spicy beef to soy. The parents of company founder Lowell Hawthorne ran a bakery in Jamaica for more than 50 years before Hawthorne himself opened his first bakery in the Bronx back in 1989. Today, there are more than 100 franchises across the country, with one in Orlando, one in Kissimmee and three more slated to open on John Young Parkway, in Ocala and in Clermont.

Having devoured Jamaican beef patties since childhood, I can't say I was all that impressed with the ones served here. Sure, the turmeric-yellow crust of the beef patty ($1.20) is as advertised, but the somewhat overprocessed seasoned meat lacks the essential spice to give it that gusto ' no slivers of Scotch bonnet peppers; no stinging vinegary-ness. It's as if GK is purposely toning it down for mass appeal. The end result is a decent, though not great, patty. Same goes for the vegetable version ($1.40) with steamed carrots, cabbage and broccoli pulp filling inside a whole wheat pastry, and the fish patty ($1.80) with seasoned cod. Both fell a little flat. One good thing is that for 75 cents, you can order your patty with no filling at all.

(Aside: If you're a true patty-head like myself, head down the road to the Caribbean Sunshine Bakery, located on the corner of Colonial and John Young Parkway, where the patties are more corpulent, crumbly and fiery.)

The jerk chicken ($6.50) fared a whole lot better. Five chunks of bone-in chicken rubbed with jerk seasoning and doused with jerk sauce gave it a righteous flavor. Curried goat ($6.99) is an exotic dish often enjoyed by hungry island expats looking for a taste of home, and the fatty pieces of meat lolling in rich, luxuriant gravy easily made this my favorite dish. Also worth a try is the oxtail ($8.25), the slowly braised, slightly gelatinous and subtly sweet meat that's similar in texture and taste to beef brisket. All the above dishes were ordered 'small,â?� but were generously heaped with meat, rice and peas (the 'peasâ?� here being red beans) and steamed veggies.

Post-meal pastries and baked goods are plentiful and made on-site. I liked the moist, buttery carrot cake ($2) with its semisweet icing layered with walnuts. Rock cake ($1.15), a crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside mound of coconut cake with raisins, is best enjoyed with a spot of tea or, better yet, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (neither of which are available here, unfortunately). Bun and cheese ($2) features a thick wedge of mild cheddar between two thicker slabs of sugary, raisin-specked spice buns. A dense treat, to say the least.

The space itself is anything but. It's airy and brightly lit with a pounding R&B beat and Carib vibe. Just call ahead, as they're prone to shutting down before the posted closing time of 9 p.m. After all, island fare and island time are a matched set.

Lowe's Good Eaton may be open seven days a week, but there's no better time to sample the restaurant's dishes than Sunday afternoons, when worshippers dressed in their Sunday best cross the street from Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in the heart of Eatonville and head straight to Shea Lowe's soul-food sitdown. The famished masses pay no heed to the menu board near the entrance ' most know exactly what they crave ' and make a beeline for the steam table toward the back of the restaurant to confirm their selection is available. The scene is one of animated anticipation: suited men and chapeau'ed ladies getting their fill of in-line hobnobbing before getting their fill of Southern cookery. 

A Caribbean influence is immediately noticeable, with items like curry chicken ($7.50) and 'slap yo' mommaâ?� oxtails ($7.99) simmering under the glass. That's because Lowe's wife hails from Jamaica, and the menu includes some of her family recipes. The oxtails, supposedly so good that they might spur a bout of maternal abuse, didn't make me want me to sock my mother, but they were worthy of giving my cousin a good shove. While flavorful, they weren't as fall-off-the-bone tender as I would've liked; there are plenty of Caribbean joints in town ' Timehri, Shakera's and Golden Krust ' that do the dish better. Sides of macaroni and cheese and sweet corn, on the other hand, were spot-on. The curry chicken had the obligatory infusion of allspice and turmeric to give it the island essence, and even the rice was identical to the sort you'd find at a Caribbean restaurant. For added zest, squeeze bottles of homemade pepper sauce fashioned by the head cook ' Miss Kim, whose Thai heritage lent the hot sauce its distinct bite ' yielded a bit of heat and a lot of flavor.

Of the traditional Southern offerings, three pieces of fried chicken ($2.99) were cheap and superbly gratifying, the crisp skin and slick resplendence of white and dark meat delightfully sticky and messy. Smothered pork chops ($7.59) drew comparisons to the ones served up at Johnson's Diner, which we found to be more tender and a little better-seasoned. But Lowe's chops are still a plateful of comfort, no doubt, especially when accompanied with a heap of mashed potatoes and green beans. The coup de grâce is sopping the thick gravy up with arguably the best corn bread in the city. Other sides, like black-eyed peas and steamed cabbage, are also perfectly executed. It should be noted that because many of her customers don't eat pork, Miss Kim will occasionally season her peas with smoked turkey or, in the case of collards, green beans and cabbage, with vegetable-based spices.

If you make it out on a Friday or Saturday, you may find Lowe hovering over a batch of his special ribs ($9.99), which he slow-cooks over an open charcoal grill. Desserts are a tad hard to come by. It took three visits before I was able to sample the sweet potato pie ($1.75), but it was well worth the wait. The pie wasn't overly spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, but had an almost floral essence. Just as wonderful was Miss Kim's banana pudding ($2.50), with its just-right thickness and consistency.

And after sampling Lowe's fare, the same could be said about my belly.

There's something about a steel drum band and a beer from Trinidad that urges you to kick back. The little Caribbean eatery Paradise Island Cafe has just introduced the mix-and-mingle concept from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Fridays, and more than a few downtown professional types have been showing up. Five dollars buys all the Caribbean hors d'oeuvres you can eat.

Lunch also is a busy time at the cafe, which looks like a little West Indian convenience market when you first walk in, until you go past the counter into the dining area, which seats 50. The crowd spills over to the cafe tables outside. Top lunchtime requests are the succulent boneless jerk chicken ($6.95) and the beefy "oxtails," which are simmered in Jamaican herbs and spices ($5.95).

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