While eating at Tau Poco, I got a great tip about a Jamaican restaurant in Fairfield/Ensley. There are a few Jamaican places in Birmingham. My Foodie Informant’s wife who is from Jamaica apparently likes this one the best. And when he told me that it is essentially inside of a Shell gas station, I knew I had struck foodie gold. So I rounded up Mr Foodie and a few friends and headed to the North Side.
We almost missed it – good thing I knew I was looking for a Shell gas station!
The atmosphere is bare bones, in a good way. The restaurant isn’t exactly in but rather adjacent to the Shell. A sign advertising Strawberitas from the Shell adorns the one shared wall. There is a counter, a menu above, and a very nice gentleman in the back smiling at you. Over the counter hangs a backpack with a Jamaican flag. There is one table and a small counter with barstools where we sat to wait for our friends.
While we waited, a few people came in to order take out jerk chicken. Here’s the full menu:
We asked the gentleman in the back, what’s your favorite thing to eat here? He said, in a very genuine way, “I like to eat everything I cook,” almost as if to say, “I wouldn’t serve it to you if I didn’t enjoy it myself.” We took that as a vote of confidence and license to order anything and everything on the menu. It seemed like he was THE cook-he was the only employee we saw.
Mr Foodie and I decided to order one jerk chicken and one fish between us. We decided on rice, plantains, cabbage, and cornbread as sides, asked for one piece of coco bread, a pineapple beverage, and coconut water. Our new friend seemed pleased with our choices. Our two friends also ordered jerk chicken and sides.
Within 15 minutes, all the food was ready, served in styrofoam boxes and with plastic utensils. We realized that he didn’t hear Mr Foodie ask for fish and thought he had asked for chicken. He was very apologetic and offered to fix it – after looking at and smelling the jerk chicken Mr Foodie’s mouth was watering and he decided to stick with that. Here’s what it all looked like:
Jerk chicken served with plantains and rice:
Jerk chicken served with cabbage and jalapeno cornbread:
The jerk chicken had a deep, almost smoky flavor. It was spicy but not overly so, and was as moist as I’ve ever known chicken to be. It was outstanding. The sides were equally as good. The plantains were sweet and a little crunchy; the cabbage was flavorful; and the cornbread had a little kick to it. Unexpectedly, the rice was my favorite side: the smoky flavor of the beans and the slightly spicy (jerk?) seasoning on the rice took rice to a whole new level.
Then, there was the coco bread. Served in a brown bag, steaming hot:
It was buttery and slightly sweet, like a cross between soft yeast bread and the best biscuit you’ve ever had.
And of course, we were chasing all of this down with tropical beverages:
Halfway through our meal, one of the other customers told Mr Foodie that our friend behind the counter was trying to get his attention. He insisted on giving us this, and wouldn’t let us pay for it:
It was our fish! The fish is red snapper in a traditional Jamaican style, marinated in ceviche-style marinade and pan fried. And it was the whole fish-head, eyes, tail, everything. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was-the picture just doesn’t do it justice. It tasted as good as it looked.
Not only was the food at Southern Caribbean out of this world, but it was served with kindness and genuine pride. This place tops our list of Birmingham’s hidden gems – we can’t wait to come back.