It's been awhile since I posted my last review, due in large part to the illness and eventual passing of my mother. Her death left me a bit distraught and even now, I'm still not completely feeling it with the blog. However, on my Mom's birthday, I decided to celebrate it by devoting this review to one of her passions, spicy food. Usually when it comes to that, it is about things ranging from hot wings to barbecue smothered in hot BBQ sauce from Cozy Corner. Occasionally, she would get a craving for something more exotic such as Caribbean food. Whenever that happens, she usually went to Bahama Breeze for entrées like Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Bahamian Seafood Chowder (not spicy but good nonetheless) that made Mama very happy.
Although Mama liked Bahama Breeze, I felt that she could have had better. Not to be a food snob, but I believe that most chain restaurants lack the charm and soul that most local eateries have. As an "Eat Local" proponent, I prefer to dine at restaurants where the owners have a sincere appreciation for their customers, knowing that they are the heart of their businesses. Nothing against chain restaurants, but I have yet to have a chef of a Ruby Tuesday ask me how my meal was. I love the relationships that I have with my favorite local restaurants, and I wanted my mom to enjoy a similar experience.
My first impression of Evelyn & Olive (aka "E&O") was what I expected. It is a small restaurant that has a bit of a romantic feel to it. Because I went on a Wednesday, the restaurant was not crowded so it was easy getting a table. The restaurant only had two servers, with mine doing double duty by bartending and tending tables. The place definitely had a "hole in the wall" feel to it that you can't get in a chain restaurant. If I took my mom to E&O, I believe she would really like it, although at times it was hard to tell with her. She is not an easy woman to please but the charming Jamaican chef that greeted me would have swept Mama her off feet. Putting aside the food, Evelyn & Olive seems like the real deal in terms of atmosphere and service.
SIDE NOTE: I wasn't bullshitting about the chef. My first encounter with Jamaicans was during firefighter training with them at Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois. I tell you, those guys had serious game with the ladies. Remembering what Eddie Murphy said about letting your girlfriend go to the islands for vacation by herself, I don't think he was far from the truth.
With my mother in mind, I intended to order dishes that she would have wanted. In a random choice, I picked the Kingston Fish Stew, an entrée that I later found is very popular with the restaurant's regulars. It consists of fried tilapia that's cooked in Escovitch sauce that's unique to Jamaican cuisine. If my mom had it, she wouldn't have a need for Tabasco sauce because the blackened tilapia was very spicy due to the vinegar, peppers and onions that make up the Escovitch (thanks to Chef Tony for hipping me about this). The Escovitch was also present in the rice and peas that contributed mightily to a delicious meal that my mom would've kissed me for. Just for the hell of it, I added a twist of lime that came with a bottle of Red Stripe beer that made a great dinner even better (it seems Mexicans aren't the only people that mix citric flavor with spicy food). All around, the Kingston Stew Fish was marvelous, and I'm confident that my mom would have loved it if she had it. Maybe someday I'll take my dad to Evelyn and Olive, although he's more of a "Red Lobster" guy when it comes to seafood. Still, given what my parents mean to me, I want to show my gratitude whenever possible, something I didn't do enough with Mama.
Prior to getting the entrée, I got the Callaloo. It is Jamaican greens "sautéed with scallions, pimento and herbs" (as stated in the menu). Similar to the greens I had at Cave's (now closed and is currently a catering company), the Callaloo was very salty. Even though it was also a bit spicy, the sodium factor was hard to ignore. While I ate it, an older Jamaican woman (likely one of the owners, maybe "Evelyn") asked me how I liked it. I told her it was okay and indeed it was, although my mom never cooked greens that way. If that's how Jamaicans do it, then more power to them. Although it's not for me, if my mother was alive, I wonder what she would have thought of it. When it comes to greens, the gold standard that I judge others by is my Mama's, and E&O's Callaloo didn't do it for me. I'm speaking as an African-American so my opinions are skewed by that. However, Callaloo is a Jamaican take on a classic American staple that others should try.
Now if I had dined with my mom at Evelyn & Olive, I would have gotten either a burger or wings. With that in mind, I paid another visit to the restaurant the following Saturday. Unlike the previous visit, the restaurant was full with only a couple of tables to spare. I was fortunate to get one and wasted no time in ordering. In deciding whether to get a burger or wings, I chose both, starting off with the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings. The wings met my expectations, for the Jerk seasoning made the wings spicy and very flavorful. The mango BBQ sauce added a fruity sweetness that really impressed me. Overall, the wings were great and I hope to have them again as part of a full course dinner. I'm sure my mom would approve.
While the wings were great, I can't say the same about my burger. The E&O Burger is probably one of the most underwhelming hamburgers that I ever had. Putting aside my wishes for something exotic, the hamburger was lame by even the lowest standards. The beef patty seemed to lack any seasoning and was bland overall. If the restaurant cooked it the way I wanted it (medium rare) as opposed to "well done," I might have had a more positive opinion. The burger comes with potato chips and Jamaican Boom Boom sauce, but I don't think Wile E. Coyote toting Acme dynamite could have liven it up. When comparing it to Jerk burgers I had at Automatic Slim's when Karen Carrier owned it, the E&O Burger is a dud. Fortunately, Evelyn and Olive's success doesn't depend on hamburgers, otherwise the restaurant would have gone out of business a long time ago.
Despite the lackluster burger, I enjoyed the food at Evelyn & Olive. As much as I liked it, the experiences would have been much better if I had my beautiful mother by my side. My mom was a caring woman who did her best to raise me and provide everything that I could dream of. Even as an adult who fell on hard times, my Mama took me in without any hesitation. Although my mother was a good woman, she was also tough on me whenever I needed it. Even though I didn't like it, I knew she was coming from a good place and would help me out of a jam, even when it could have been avoided if I followed her advice. With her being so good to me, I wish I could have been a better son to her. Despite never being her ideal son, I knew my mom loved me to the end and I the same. I'm not sure if heaven exists, but if it does, I hope she's enjoying a wonderful afterlife. After all she's done for her family, friends and the many students she taught and inspired as a 30-year school teacher, I hope she is rewarded with splendid paradise. She deserves nothing less.ߌ
|Thelma Lemmons Rogers|
August 13, 1939 - June 23, 2015
Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Burgers, Caribbean, Commentary, Downtown, Seafood, Wings
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