Traveling all over Boston to research budget-priced restaurants is great fun, but sometimes leaves me feeling envious. When I find a family-run place that seems to serve as an anchor for neighborhood life — serving three meals a day, doing a brisk takeout business, offering live music, DJs, and poetry readings a few nights a month — I think, "Damn, wish my neighborhood had a place like this." Such is Lorenz Island Kuisine, which I would find charming even if it didn't offer the kind of hearty, terrific, traditional Jamaican fare it does.
The obvious care in the cooking starts with house-made Jamaican patties ($4), fried turnovers of minced chicken, minced beef, or mixed vegetables, seasoned with turmeric, sweet spices, modest capsicum fire, and far less grease than most. Curry goat ($11) stews chunks of bone-in meat in a glossy, ebony gravy with some Raj-style yellow curry: it's gorgeous, rich, and includes a side of lightly sautéed cabbage. Ackee and saltfish ($13), another Jamaican standby, offers sautéed salt-cod fillets in garlic/black-pepper sauce with onions, tomatoes, peppers, and a fierce, lingering background note of Scotch bonnet chilies. It's dotted with ackee, the bland, custardy, purportedly nutritious yellow arils (seed coatings) of a tropical fruit. Sides like callaloo ($4), grassy-tasting stewed amaranth greens, and channa ($3), a dryish but otherwise Punjabi-like preparation of curried chickpeas, are worthy additions. Jerk chicken ($9) features two hefty bone-in thighs in a mild dry rub, juicily roasted and made memorable with a superb house-made jerk sauce, tangy with tamarind and searing with Scotch bonnets. All entrées add heft with a side of white rice or rice mixed with a few pinto beans. The fine johnnycake ($1), a fried wheat-dough roll with the internal layering of a croissant and a faintly sweet glaze, is an excellent way to further extend a stew.
Drink options include very good Jamaican sodas ($1.95) in flavors like grapefruit and ginger beer, bottled beers ($6) including the crisp Jamaican lager Red Stripe, and Stone's Ginger Wine ($8/glass), a sweet fortified wine made from dried currants and punched up with sinus-clearing ginger (best over ice). The short dessert list includes the owner's mom's dreamy Jamaican fruit cake ($5), a gorgeous slice of dark spice cake loaded with minced dried fruits, crowned by quality buttercream frosting. With a friendly, slow-moving vibe and a lot of beautifully done, cooked-to-order fare, Lorenz Island Kuisine feels about as comfortable as a warm Caribbean breeze. It's the paragon of a neighborhood place, and worth the trip if Codman Square isn't your neighborhood.
Lorenz Island Kuisine, located at 657 Washington Street in Dorchester, is open Monday–Saturday, 7 am–9 pm. Call 617.326.3163.