Hi, I’m Mike and I’m a Pepper Belly! (Hi Mike!) I love spicy foods, or as the old movie title has it, “Some Like It Hot”.
How hot? As I am typing this, I’m enjoying a breakfast of two slices of Wrights black pepper bacon and a home made bagel (you can find the recipe at our sister site, Sourdoughhome.com) covered with a habanero cream cheese (the recipe is here). I love Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks. I subscribed to Chilli Pepper magazine for a good while. My chili rarely wins prizes at our contests at work because things like the Hawaiian Pineapple Chili catch the judges eyes and mine is, well, too hot. I’d rather not win, or get third place like I did this year, than make something like Hawaiian Pineapple Chili. (If my coworkers stumble on this page, I’m sure it was a fine specimen of Hawaiian Pineapple Chili, and my lack of appreciation reflects far more on me than on the chili.)
For years, I’ve heard about Jamaican food. It’s supposed to be one of the spiciest – hottest – cuisines in the world. However, there aren’t all that many Jamaican restaurants in the United States. I found one in the food court in a train station in Washington D.C. Their food was warm, not hot. I asked the Jamaican woman behind the counter about this and she told me that if she fixed it the way she liked it, she wouldn’t sell a second meal to many people – most Americans really don’t like hot foods. I wish I could have argued the point with her. Chile Pepper magazine seems to have trouble staying afloat.
Imagine my delight when I heard about Jamaican Gates in fairly nearby Arlington, Texas on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. A number of people complained in on-line reviews that it was too spicy. So, I was ready to go! Yesterday, December 23, 2011, we went.
Since it wasn’t a diner and it wasn’t a drive-in, and given some of the on-line comments I expected it to be a dive. I wouldn’t call it a dive. It is a neat and clean restaurant in what looked like a converted pizza joint. Their health inspection scores are average. It isn’t the Ritz-Carlton’s dining room, but it’s not a dive.
We tried to make it for lunch, but every time I go through Fort Worth, they stage traffic jams for me. We got there in time to see them taking down the lunch buffet. That was fine with us, since wanted to try their best and food on the buffet line is rarely the best a restaurant can do.
When we walked in we were greeted with a cheery and sincere cry of “Welcome to Jamaica Gates” from Moses, who it turned out was our waiter. A very pretty and friendly waitress took our drink orders because Moses was tied up with another table. Beth ordered an iced tea, and I had a Red Stripe. When he got to us a few minutes later, Moses was amazingly friendly and deeply concerned that all his guests have a great experience at Jamaica Gates.
Some of the dishes on the menu were called out with one, two or three chili peppers (I think they were chili peppers, some people seem to think they are silhouettes of Jamaicans) to indicate how hot they are. One pepper is “Likkle bit spicy”, two is “Likkle more spicy”, and three is “Rahtid hot!” Most dishes had no advisory chilies, five had one chili, two had two chilies, and one – the Boston Jerk Pork – had three.
Beth and I shared a Jamaican Patty with a beef filling. The presentation was very … ahhhh… straightforward. However, I remember the title of Alton Brown’s first book, “I’m just here for the food”. The patty was attractive in a homey way and it had a generous filling of a very flavorful beef mixture, similar to a tamale filling only more liquid. The seasoning seemed to be a relatively mild curry that grew on us in several senses – the more we ate, the more we liked it, and the more we ate, the warmer it seemed. The pattie was a good size for an appetizer for two people.
Beth ordered the Curry Shrimp. She asked for their cabbage and white rice as side dishes. The shrimp was wonderful! Perfectly cooked with a lovely feel as you bit into them and the curry was very, very nice. Beth went so far as to describe the dish as “perfect”. It was mild, but this dish wasn’t labeled with hot peppers, so the heat level was appropriate. That pleased Beth since she isn’t a serious pepper belly. She enjoys well seasoned food, even spicy food, but normally she prefers things a lot milder than I do. The serving size was very generous.
The white rice was bland, but the shrimp sauce on it enlivened it considerably. The cabbage was shredded raw cabbage with shredded raw carrot mixed with it. There was a light, mild dressing on it, The cabbage was also quite bland. However, Beth is a real cabbage fan enjoyed the cabbage, even through she wished a little bit more had been happening there.
I was feeling like a gourmand and wanted to try a sampler plate. The Kingston Trio plate called me. I could choose three meats from the menu. I picked the Curry Mutton (Goat), the Oxtail, and the Boston Jerk Pork. The Boston Jerk Pork had three peppers on it and Moses warned me, “That’s the hottest thing we cook!” I told him that was why we came here. I asked for the Rice and Peas and the Hard Dough Bread as my sides.
When the plate came, my gourmand expectations had been more than met. It was an overwhelming about of food. The portion size are very generous at Jamaica Gates. The goat curry was, hands down, the winner. The goat was falling off the bone tender, but as goat often is it was still chewy – a delightful texture. The sauce had flavored the meat nicely. And the sauce was amazing! It was a delicious, savory, rich curry sauce. It wasn’t hot, but that’s OK since there were no advisory peppers on the menu with that dish. I dipped my Hard Dough Bread in the sauce until all the bread was gone. The bread was like a dense Pullman loaf. It had a very fine and regular crumb. It would have been better if they had used an unbleached flour and let it rise longer to more fully develop its flavors, but for bread in a restaurant it was very good.
The oxtails were thin slices of oxtail slowly cooked in Jamaican spices, and simmered with butter beans. This dish also had no advisory chili peppers so I wasn’t expecting it to be hot, and it wasn’t. The sauce was far more savory and less spicy than the goat’s sauce. While I liked the meat, I would have been happy with a bowl of the butter beans. Oxtails are tough, and tough to cook, but Jamaica Gates cooked them well. All that said, I enjoyed them, just not as much as the curried goat.
The rice and peas were actually rice and what looked like brown beans, maybe pinto beans. I thought the dish was a a bit dry and bland. When I put the last of the goat curry sauce or some of Grace’s hot sauce and Scotch bonnet sauce the rice, the rice perked up considerably. I need to look for some of Grace’s Scotch bonnet sauce the next time I’m at the grocery store – I REALLY liked the Scotch Bonnet sauce. It had a good kick, and the lovely floral qualities of the pepper were very evident. Grace’s hot sauce was like a slightly hotter Tabasco sauce. It was good, but I’m not itching for more.
And that brings us to the Boston Jerk Pork, which was the only dish on the menu with three advisory stars. The hottest thing they make. I don’t know if they toned it down because we hadn’t ordered any other spicy dishes, or if they’d just toned it down since the restaurant opened up. However, it was no hotter than any of the other dishes we had. It was a well cooked Boston pork butt, and a generous serving. It was well seasoned, but not hot. I was disappointed. I was expecting “the most powerful handgun in the world” and got a pump action BB gun. Looking at reviews of Jamaican Gates on line after our visit it dawned on me that NO ONE complained that the food was too hot. One person said that their lips tingled after they ate there. A few people said the food was too salty. Maybe theirs was, ours wasn’t. This isn’t to say the pork was bad, it was quite good. Not as good as the goat.
We also had dessert. Beth had the Jamaican Rum cake and I had the bread pudding. Both were very good. The rum cake was a spice cake that seemed to have allspice in it, and a rum sauce soaked through it. The bread pudding was, I suspect, made of leftover hard dough bread. It was dense and filling and delicious.
And that brings us to the question of would we go back. I’m on the fence. It was about $70 plus a tip which was pretty pricey for what we had. The food was good, with the shrimp and goat being very good. However, I’m still looking for the “most powerful handgun in the world”. And I’m not at all sure they’ve got it. Maybe if you know the secret password you get the real deal? I’ve been hearing about other Jamaican restaurants.