MAMA TINA'S SPECIAL — red snapper steamed in coconut milk.
Fed up with winter? Couple of options. Hit the web and book an impulse flight to some palm-tree-bedecked island. Or drive to Tina's Jamaican Caribbean Restaurant, bask in the colorful ambience, and prepare yourself to be fed as well as any Rastaman who strolls in.
There were Jamaican accents at the next table as well as behind the counter, a Bob Marley portrait at the front window, and an island mural that's mostly blue sea.
But the most exotic thing about the place is the menu, plus some items not frequently encountered. For example, the beverages, most $3, span that spectrum. They were out of cucumber juice, which sounds like it would be especially refreshing in the summer, but had Tina's own refreshing concoction of red sorrel punch, with a floral fragrance from hibiscus. Her ginger beer is much sweeter than most, so much so that I couldn't finish mine. There's also a tonic called Bedroom Bully, which I suppose you'd best bring home to drink.
Just want a sandwich? You can get jerk chicken or fish on coco bread, a spongy white loaf made with coconut milk. Thursdays through Saturdays, there are curried goat and curried chicken, and on Saturdays you can have jerk pork ($10 at lunch, $13.50 dinner). I learned something from the ingredients of the Rastaman combo ($9/$12), which consists of nothing but vegetables, such as cabbage and bell peppers, with fresh herbs in a curry sauce; apparently the eponymous Rastafarians, at least those at Tina's, don't have to assert their masculinity through carnivorous consumption.
There sure is a lot of chicken on the menu here. You can get it jerked, curried, or pan-seared and stewed in a brown sauce. My two friends and I started with both the jerk chicken salad ($6) and the Ziggy Marley wings ($8.50/$11). A bowl of the latter was piled high, even though it was just a lunch portion, but the jerk sauce, described as spicy hot, was actually quite mild. Delicious though. With the salad, they were accompanied by fried plantains, firm and slightly sweet.
We also had one each of the Jamaican patties ($2), chicken, beef, and vegetable, which look like palm-size calzones. All were enjoyed. Beans are mashed in with the beef, and there's a little peppery hotness to the veggie, making it as interesting as the other two.
There are several fish offerings. A curried dish of king fish ($10/$13.50) starts out pan-seared with onions. Red snapper is prepared three different ways: as the Rasta special ($15/$19.50), baked stuffed with okra or calaloo, which is made from taro leaves; and as either the Chef's Special or Mama Tina's special ($12/$15.50), pan-seared or steamed in coconut milk, respectively.
Since they were out of what was billed as Caribbean-style shrimp ($12/$15.50), which tempted me with three adjectives ("fiery home-style seasoned"), I had the Mama Tina's special. In an unusual touch, although the fish was steamed, it had been lightly breaded and pan-fried beforehand. Sure it was soggy, but the coating had flavor from the coconut milk that apparently was spooned on after being steamed over it. Tasty trick.