This story originally ran in the Heavy Table’s Churn newsletter on Oct. 10, 2023. If you’d like to read a lot more stories about the food and drink of the Upper Midwest, and support our writers and photographers as they document the scene, please back us on Patreon.
For several years, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen has been the go-to for anyone craving Jamaican jerk and curry. But within the past year or so, the Jamaican food world in the Twin Cities has started to expand. Jamaican Caribbean Cuisine in Roseville (our story here) opened a little more than a year ago.
There are two more joining their ranks: Nanny’s and Nadia’s Jamaican Kitchens (we’re not sure why there are so many choosing “Jamaican Kitchen” as part of their business name) in St. Paul and Brooklyn Park respectively. We visited both recently and think there’s plenty of room for more Jamaican kitchens, especially those that are adding Jamaican dishes beyond jerk and curry to their menus (no disrespect to Pimento–we love their jerk and curry).
Our visits to these two Jamaican spots weren’t meant to be an apples-to-apples (jerk-to-jerk?) ranking. We just wanted to see what each is doing and what they might offer that we largely haven’t seen at Pimento. That said, we did try the same item at both places: Beef patties ($6 at each restaurant). Both were solid renditions, with tender, delicate pastry that nevertheless held up to the good amount of ground beef and onions with hints of garlic and allspice. The only noticeable difference was that Nadia’s (pictured above) had a bit more heat than Nanny’s did, but Nanny’s had a good comfort-food flavor. If you like heat, try Nadia’s; if not, get thee to Nanny’s.
Nanny’s offered two stews that intrigued us: Brown Chicken Stew ($16.50, above) and Ital Stew ($15.50). The chicken stew was lush and rich, served with a lovely brown sauce tasting of garlic and ginger, along with whole sprigs of thyme popping up.
The Ital Stew is a Rastafarian vegan dish, packed full of sizable chunks of crisp-tender veggies in a coconut milk sauce that, in a word, was amazing. It was beyond decadent, and you’d swear there was heavy cream in there somewhere, but no. If you still have acquaintances who believe vegan foods can’t have flavor and richness, please take them to Nanny’s and have them try the Ital Stew.
Both stews came with rice and beans (perfect foil for the two different sauces), steamed cabbage that added some needed crunch and a bit of acid from vinegar, and sauteed plantains that has lovely crispy bits. One person at our table had not previously been a fan of plantains, but left Nanny’s rethinking that stance.
We purposely visited Nadia’s on a Saturday, because we wanted to try the Escovitch Fish ($27.50), only available then. It was well worth planning ahead. A whole red snapper is fried, then served smothered in a tangy sauce akin to a vinegary barbecue sauce with plenty of sauteed peppers and carrots, which were delicious on their own (and could make a vegetarian entree with some rice that would be delightful). We made very short work of that fish and kept murmuring about how delicious it was.
We also tried Mama Lu’s Oxtail Stew ($28.50). It was a heaping platter of tender, melt-in-the-mouth oxtail pieces in a luxurious gravy. In spite of having nearly inhaled the fish, we also made pretty short work of the oxtail.
The final dish we tried was the Rasta Pasta ($17), which turned out to be very similar to Nanny’s Ital Stew, with the addition of penne pasta. Like Nanny’s, the coconut sauce was so decadent. We’d be hard-pressed to say one was better than the other.
At Nadia’s (above), the dishes came with copious amounts of tangy Jamaican cole slaw and red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk, but with a much lighter hand than the Rasta Pasta. In fact, the side dishes were served in such huge proportions that several people took leftovers home. A quick glance at prices seemed to show Nadia’s as being more expensive, but in reality, the more expensive dishes involved oxtail and a whole fish; the Rasta Pasta was comparably priced to the Ital Stew, and a chicken stew is likely going to be less expensive than oxtail or whole fish. But it should be noted that Nadia’s was more generous with the (delicious) sides.
Service at both places was friendly and welcoming. We’ll go back to both.
Nanny’s Jamaican Kitchen, 969 Rice Street, Saint Paul, 612.688.1619, WED-SAT 11am-9pm, SUN 11am-8pm, MON-TUE CLOSED
Nadia’s Jamaican Kitchen, 9590 Noble Pkwy, Brooklyn Park, 763.205.5484, TUE-SAT Noon-8pm, SUN Noon-7pm, MON CLOSED