You might not expect Cleveland to be a hotbed of Caribbean cuisine, but there’s a pretty strong undercurrent of island-style cooking bubbling through the landscape. Apart from a few exceptions, the Jamaican shops around town tend to follow a blueprint that includes enthusiastic owners, dismal interiors, huge portions of interesting food, little if any seating, plenty of Plexiglas and zero credit card machines.
The two exceptions on this list are Taste of Jamaica, which just relocated to a contemporary new home, and Irie Patties Caribbean Street Food, which can be found in a shopping mall food court, of all places.
Many Jamaican restaurants don’t offer every menu item all the time, and they frequently run out (or haven’t yet prepared) the one dish that you drove across town to get. The hours, too, might change without notice.
(1007 Ivanhoe Rd., S. Collinwood, 216-249-6246)
This small storefront isn’t much to look at, but the food is out of this world. I keep waiting for a downer in the long lineup of dishes but thankfully it never comes. The jerk chicken is dark from a million spices and the meat, even the breast, is meltingly tender. Braised oxtails taste like the pot roast of one’s dreams, with the meat literally dripping off the bones. Also worth trying are the curry chicken, curry goat and beef patties. Everything comes with rice and beans and warm steamed cabbage.
(14002 Lakeshore Blvd., N. Collinwood, 216-383-1874)
Located not very far from Ocho Rios, and following the same playbook in terms of layout and design, Bratenahl Kitchen dishes up huge portions of comforting island cuisine from very modest digs. This largely carry-out eatery specializes in hearty stews like goat curry, braised oxtails and chicken curry, all served with rice and beans with cabbage, mac and cheese or plantains. Wash it all down with bottles of sweet and tart Jamaican Ting soda.
(7823 Cedar Rd., Cleveland, 216-339-4544)
This hole-in-the-wall carry-out is located one block south of Hot Sauce Williams, and like that legendary spot has built a loyal following. The restaurant serves the typical mix of satisfying stews like curry chicken, curry goat, oxtail stew, cow’s foot and fish stew. International’s jerk chicken is dark, earthy, complex and aggressively spiced. Less spicy but no less satisfying is the curry chicken, boasting tropical and exotic flavors. If the oxtail stew is available, get it, and don’t forget to ask for extra gravy for your rice and beans.
Irie Patties Caribbean Street Food
Richmond Town Square (691 Richmond Rd., Richmond Hts., 440-684-9997, websiteeatiriepatties.com)
You expect to find Sbarro and Chick-fil-A in a shopping mall food court. You don’t expect to find flaky spiced-beef patties and killer jerk chicken. When he isn’t dishing up platters of his delicious jerk, curry and stewed chicken and meaty braised oxtails at the mall, the owner is busy catering parties all over town. The mall setting might be unconventional, but having plenty of comfortable seating nearby is definitely a bonus.
Taste of Jamaica
(5104 Mayfield Rd., 440-565-7230).
This eight-year-old Jamaican mainstay recently relocated from its old home in S. Euclid to a brand new one in Lyndhurst. It now officially is the nicest Jamaican joint in the tri-county area thanks to an efficient layout and attractive, roomy dining room. Big and bright menu screens tick off regular and special items like chicken curry, oxtail stew, jerk chicken and shrimp curry. All come in two sizes and include two sides like rice and beans, warm steamed cabbage, white rice and fried plantains.