PHOTOGRAPHS BY KARIIM CHARLIER / HEAVY TABLE
One look at the menu of the two-month-old Jamaican Caribbean Cuisine in Roseville and I was smitten. Cow’s foot soup? Saltfish and liver for breakfast? Peanut punch? I knew I would have a problem restraining myself when ordering, and that fully satisfying my curiosity would require multiple trips. Which I ultimately made. And after three visits it’s clear that JCC puts out enough interesting, tasty, and unique options to warrant your attention and patronage.
At first glance, JCC’s website might leave you a bit confused. On my first visit, I had planned on showing up early for some of the intriguing breakfast options (combination porridge, ackee and saltfish, liver), but the hours on the website indicated an opening time of 11 and a quick call around 9 went unanswered. Then again, some of the menu options are labeled breakfast only and state you need to order before 12pm. I’m not sure what branch of the multiverse serves breakfast from 11am-12pm, but it’s not the one I’m currently in. It might be that the restaurant has intentions of opening earlier in the future, and in fact some of their marketing materials at the restaurant say opening hours of 8am, but for now you should ignore the breakfast section of the online menu. That’s not the only section of the online menu that can’t be completely relied on. On all my visits the natural juices were either totally or partially unavailable.
There are some kinks in service logistics that seem to be working themselves out, but have not completely resolved. An 11am order of jerk wings and cow foot soup seemed to catch everyone by surprise. The soup would not be ready until the afternoon, and with just one other customer in the restaurant, the only thing coming out of the kitchen for 30 minutes was a loud and persistent banging that sounded like someone had burnt their brownies and was trying their best to smack the charred bits out of the pan onto the counter. The wings ultimately came lukewarm, limp-skinned and tossed in a thick sauce that was more sweet than spicy. The cook on them would likely have been better another time, but that sauce is not what I was expecting from jerk chicken. Indeed, the jerk chicken on the menu looks completely different from (and better than) the jerk wings. They were still wings, so clearly I ate them all. But I wasn’t too happy about it.
A separate early afternoon web order turned into a phone order due to the online portal not yet functioning, and though the system began to work by the third visit, a 1pm order made online at 11:30am wasn’t ready until around 1:20pm. In house dining is limited to a handful of square tops, and even dine-in orders are wrapped up in styrofoam to go containers.
All that said, there are some compelling reasons why you should brave whatever service and logistics issues JCC is slowly working through in order to eat their food. The cow foot soup, once I returned for it in the afternoon, had exactly the kind of gelatinous, rib-sticking potency that patiently simmered trotters of fat and tendon ought to. As I slurped, I flashed back to the late aughts when I was cooking my way through Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail. One of the genius recipes in the book for what Henderson calls Trotter Gear calls for large bubbling vats of pig’s feet, refrigerated into a jelly, and used modestly to punch up the flavor of anything from sauces to vegetables. I saved half of my order of the large soup, refrigerated it, and woke up the next morning to the same wobbling texture I had worked so hard to create. That day I used a scoop to saute some kale, to finish a pot of beans, and as a base for a pasta sauce. This cow foot soup is liquid gold. I will be back to stock up. JCC offers daily soup specials with other alluring options like Goat Head (Fridays) and Red Peas (Saturday), all of which now have my attention.
Out of the rundown with salted mackerel, the escovitch, and the calaloo and saltish, the former stood out, but none disappointed. The stew of sweet coconut milk, salty fish and hearty root vegetables was completely satisfying (watch out for some scales). The accompanying starches (boiled dumplings, fried dumplings, festival) were not my cup of tea. These are extremely thick and dense flour and cornmeal based versions, and without a substantial broth to sop up they didn’t have much of a role on any of these plates. Swimming in the daily soups makes more sense. And while I enjoyed the oxtail, the star of that dish were the perfectly cooked butter beans that had been slowly absorbing the stock, and that I got far too few of. I would have traded at least half of the accompanying rice and peas for more of those beans.
On my last visit I was lucky enough to try both the Sorrel Ginger (above with oxtail) and Irish Moss drinks. Sorrel juice isn’t made from the leafy green, but instead from dried hibiscus. And if you’ve ever had a Jamaica agua fresca, then you’ll have a sense of what this drink is about. But just a sense, since compared to the agua fresca, JCC’s version brings some warm wintry spices (clove, allspice) and a viscosity that makes this more of a sipping drink than something that washes down the grease from a taco. In fact, it packed such an intense flavor that I decided to have it over ice, which made me realize two things: 1) I really like sorrel ginger juice, and 2) this would be amazing with alcohol. A Moscow Mule replacing some part of the ginger beer with this? Yes.
Irish Moss was completely new to me. The owner asked if I wanted to try a sample, noting that it is believed to have male performance-enhancing properties in the Caribbean. Not processing the shade just thrown on my virility, I happily accepted. Sea Moss is a red algae whose natural thickening properties become apparent in the texture of the drink which inches almost closer to a pudding than a liquid. Combined with condensed milk, spices and vanilla it makes for a tasty treat that my 11-year-old declared to be similar to egg nog. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac can apparently be attributed to its high levels of zinc, but it totally makes a lot of sense because I had an Irish friend once who had, like, nine siblings. Also my 6-year-old immediately crushed one of his Avengers toys after drinking it. And that’s about the standard of evidence you’ll need to be convinced by in order to believe in the aphrodisiac effect of Irish Moss. I found it too thick to drink very much of it on its own, but it was of a perfect thickness to pour over a delightful piece of Sorrel Cake that appeared near the register when I was paying.
All in all, there are more hits than misses on the menu, and at least over my small sample of visits, that ratio seems to be increasingly tipping towards the hits as the kitchen works out some of its growing pains. Those growing pains might lead to some inconsistency in service, but if you get unlucky and have anything less than a great experience, just go back and try again. You’ll probably want to anyways after the completely charming and gracious owner chats you up at the register. The Twin Cities is short on Caribbean food, and Jamaican Caribbean Cuisine can hopefully help to fill that void for many years to come.
Jamaican Caribbean Cuisine, 1237 Larpenteur Avenue West, Roseville, Minn., 651.340.1185, MON-SAT 11am-9pm, SUN 12-8pm