Whenever I had a craving for Jamaican food, off I went to Kingston Café in Pasadena. Unfortunately, it closed down several years ago and ever since then; I've been looking for a substitute. While doing some Googling one day, I came upon a listing of Jamaican restaurants in LA. Of the ones I found, Coley's Caribbean-American Cuisine had the best reviews in comparison, but even then the reviews were also mixed.
Either people really liked the food or not. There didn't seem to be a middle ground. Wanting to check it out for myself, I decided to bring my dining group for dinner to the North Hollywood location of Coley's Caribbean-American Cuisine. The original restaurant is in Inglewood.
With our group of 11 being the only diners in the restaurant, I was expecting attentive service. What we got was a waiter who was nice, chatty, but a little on the slow side when it came to getting us our drinks, taking our orders, etc. Being a Jamaican native, I think he was still on "island time" when things are done at a more leisurely pace. In fact, I think the whole restaurant was on "island time" because even the food was a little slow to arrive, but once the plates started hitting our table, it was time to see if the food was worth the wait.
A couple of us started with appetizers. I was curious about the Codfish Fritters so I ordered that to share with the group. When the fritters were put in front of me, they looked like rectangular corn bread. "Where's the fish?" I wondered. It's only with a closer inspection that you could see small pieces of fish sticking out of the Swiss cheese holes of the fritter. After a couple of bites, I did like the fritter's light and spongy texture, but I was let down because I didn't taste any fish. I knew it was there, but my taste buds weren't feeling the fishy love.
Dinner came with a choice of soup or salad, so I went with a cup of their Seafood Gumbo. The only kind of seafood gumbo I've had in the past has been either Creole-style or Cajun-style which usually included vegetables like onion, celery, bell peppers and sometimes okra and/or tomatoes along with the meat ingredients. I wasn't sure what to expect with a Jamaican version. Needless to say that I was surprised by what I got.
The cup of gumbo placed before me had a really dark brown broth. There were also no vegetables to be found unless they were just really cooked down which could have been possible. My particular soup had more sausage than seafood, but others in the group had it the opposite way. I was actually quite happy with the sausage. They were definitely meaty and had a nice smoky pepperiness that I liked. As for the broth itself, except for the fact that it was a little too salty, I enjoyed it. It was rich and there were a lot of things hitting my taste buds with each spoonful. I really can't describe what I tasted, but there was a depth of flavor there that hit the spot.
For my entrée, I went for the Oxtail and that dish made my night. On first sight, I was immediately drawn to how meaty those oxtails were. It's always a problem when you get more tail bone than ox, but I had no worries in this instance. Also, it was easy to tell that the meat was braised just right, because it was tender enough that no knife was needed. As for the sauce the meat came in, it was bursting with palate pizzazz. Just like the gumbo, I could taste a myriad of spices, but unlike the gumbo, there wasn't an overuse of salt. This is a dish I would definitely order again. The oxtail also came with plantains, rice, vegetables and festival bread, which kind of reminded me of a hush puppy.
Overall, even with the slow service, I think the food was good enough that I'd go back even if I had to wait a little longer than usual for my meal to arrive. If nothing else, I'd return just for that oxtail, but there were also other things on the menu that looked promising as well like the traditional Jamaican dish of Ackee and Codfish or their Curried Goat. Those are tasty journeys still to come, but for now, I'm happy that I've found a good alternative to a long gone favorite.
To see pics, go to:
Coley's Caribbean-American Cuisine
10842 Magnolia Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601