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Eats: Taste of Jamaica won't let you down, mon

NATE THURMAN/SUN HERALDAn order of jerk chicken with sides of rice and peas, steamed cabbage and fried plantains from Taste of Jamaica restaurant in Ocean Springs. On the left is a cup of zesty jerk sauce.
NATE THURMAN/SUN HERALDAn order of jerk chicken with sides of rice and peas, steamed cabbage and fried plantains from Taste of Jamaica restaurant in Ocean Springs. On the left is a cup of zesty jerk sauce.

The first time I had jerk chicken, I was lucky enough to be in Jamaica. I'll never forget how the combination of well-seasoned jerk grilled chicken tasted.

It has a complex base of spices that brings on the heat slowly, and the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. After trying the chicken at Taste of Jamaica restaurant in Ocean Springs, I was brought back to that moment.

The atmosphere at Taste of Jamaica is laid back and casual. The bright green and yellow walls spotlight the colors of the Caribbean as various televisions show the day's game. But the real star here is the food.

The menu is streamlined and stuffed with Jamaican staples.

I ordered the jerk chicken ($8) with fried plantains and rice and peas (the peas in this instance are closer to what Americans call beans), and my dining partners each got the curry goat dish ($10) with steamed cabbage; one ordered the macaroni and cheese side and one the mashed potatoes.

Six sides are available, and each is delicious. The cabbage was tender and buttery, with a small zing of spice, while the rice and peas made the perfect accompaniment to my spicy jerk chicken. They were cooked with allspice and garlic, with the rice acting to temper all the spicy flavor.

The chicken is addicting. Every bite made me want more, and after time a healthy spice flavor crept up, enough to make any person thirsty, but never enough to feel overdone or scorch your tongue. The chicken meat was tender and moist, easy to pull apart. My serving came with a quarter chicken -- the leg and the thigh.

The fried plantains were the right combination of sweet and starchy and tasted delicious dipped in the restaurant's jerk sauce.

"People are always saying that if I wanted to, I could just bottle up the sauce and sell that," said Ozzy Brown, owner of Taste of Jamaica. "That's how much people seem to like it."

The goat we tried was covered in curry sauce, complex and spicy. It has an earthy spice profile compared with the chicken, but was just as tender. The macaroni and cheese was well-portioned and added a real creamy contrast to the spicy meat entrees.

Taste of Jamaica offers a variety of other entrees, including curry chicken, brown stew chicken ($8 each) and jerk pork ($10).

Brown said the most popular dish by far is the oxtail ($10).

"If I had to say there was one thing we have trouble keeping up with sometimes, it's the oxtail," Brown said. "Everyone loves the oxtail."

The restaurant also provides shrimp cooked with curry, jerk or garlic spices ($10). Fried and brown stew fish also are on the menu ($10).

Also coming to the menu are some classic American dishes. Because Taste of Jamaica occupies the location where Big O's Sports Bar and Grill used to be, Taste of Jamaica will offer the same burgers loved by fans of Big O's, with the same sports bar environment, but with much more Caribbean flair. So whether it's real Jamaican tastes or well-made pub food you're looking for, Taste of Jamaica won't let you down.

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