Stir it up at Eastman’s Jamaican7/8/2015
Jamaica has the world’s least dogmatic cuisine. It’s a wild mix of native foods and others brought by slaves, indentured servants and immigrants from India, China, Africa and Europe. Ital, Jamaica’s most famous style of cooking, is vegan — unless you want some fish, goat, poultry or a few other exceptions. Dogma can’t survive the Jamaican climate. Like many things Rastafarian, Ital cuisine derives its name by dropping a consonant from the word “vital.” Rastafarians believe that food nourishes the soul and body. Some schools of Ital refuse to use salt, and most forbid rock salt. All refrain from using preservatives, MSG and other chemicals. Some will not eat shellfish or chicken because both are scavengers. Cooks compensate with liberal use of chilies, spices, herbs and music.
Eastman’s Jamaican Cuisine is such a body and soul refreshment stand. It’s also a serious delight. Chiquita Eastman runs the front of the house with a larger-than-life personality. The entire place is decorated in the bright yellow and green of the Jamaican flag. DVDs of Jamaican concerts — mostly reggae — play loudly on a large-screen monitor with an excellent sound system. Some foods are cooked to order and require more than two musical sets of waiting time.
Jerk is the house specialty. Chickens are treated to a marinade of vinegar, rum, chilies and myriad eastern spices like allspice, nutmeg and ginger. They are cooked to a tasty char on a grill that sends enticing aromas a block away. I would consider this a major distraction — or a good excuse — if I attended East High School. A quarter chicken with two sides can be had for as little as $6.50 during lunch hours on weekdays. Sides include an excellent version of “peas and rice,” with the peas being pigeon peas, which resemble red kidney beans. They are cooked in a sweet liquid with jerk spices. Cabbage, which was cooked with carrots, was also delightfully sweet. Sweet potatoes, mac and cheese and jerk versions of spaghetti and rotini completed the side dishes. Curry and brown stew versions of chicken are also specials here.
Curries of oxtail and goat meat are on the menu but have been sold out on my visits. Fish choices include red snapper ($17-25 depending upon size), catfish ($14 and up) and tilapia ($12). These are cooked whole with dry rub and served with little jars of escovitch, a vinegar based sauce (Spanish escabeche) with heat-packing spices. The cook sent some out to sample “to be sure it’s hot enough for you.”
My whole red snapper was plated with three kinds of bell peppers and two sides. Also on the menu is “The Bob Marley plate” ($14). This is a vegan dish (though Marley ate meat and fish) that changes daily with the chef’s whims. Chiquita told me that sometimes it includes plantains, Shanghai dumplings, taro and empanadas. Usually it includes peas and rice and cabbage. Occasional specials include jerk tacos and Jamaican fried chicken.
Eastman’s offers cakes, cobblers and pies. If my rum cake was a fair indicator, their desserts ($3.50 and up) are the best bargains in town. Rich with rum that did not all burn off, molasses and prunes, this cake could impress diners in the finest restaurants at probably thrice the price.
American soft drinks and bottled water cost $1 here. For $2, one can sample a bottle of ginger beer or Kola Champagne, a product from Trinidad & Tobago that is usually described as “darker than cream soda and sweeter than Coke.”
Side Dishes: “Feran Adria: Notes on Creativity” presents notes and drawings of the great Spanish molecular chef. It’s been drawing serious chefs and foodies to the Nelson-Atkins Gallery in Kansas City and plays through Aug. 2. CV
EASTMAN’S JAMAICAN CUISINE
1100 E. 14th St., 266-7473
Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.,
Fri. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.,
Sat. noon – 10 p.m., Sun. 1-6:30 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.