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Jamaican cuisine? For some, sadly, it’s little more than what’s at the buffet at Sandals or Breezes or whatever one-name-one-price resort the tourist sequesters him or herself, venturing off-site only to acquire both braided cornrows that will grow more embarrassing the closer to home you get when the vacation’s over. Yah, mon.
For the serious eater, Jamaican food is an enjoyable dining experience. It’s one of those satisfying combinations of the earthy and exotic that never gets old. The serious eater knows too, that the difference between the food at a good Jamaican-style restaurant and an outstanding one can be subtle. It’s easy to spot if you know, though, what you’re looking for.
First, always order the rice and peas. It’s a staple at any Jamaican joint. At Mi-Hungry Catering & BBQ Jamaican Cuisine, you’ll taste it in the first forkful: there’s a creamy richness that can only come from coconut milk. Some places skimp on it. Mi-Hungry doesn’t.
Look for “Brownstew” on the menu. Mi-Hungry has it— the chicken version. It’s a Jamaican classic. Chicken is slow-stewed in a broth fortified with onions, peppers, garlic, and tomato. Inevitably, when it’s made right like it is here, there will be just a hint of lime; it comes from the chicken having been washed in a bath of water and lime juice that tenderizes the meat.
Most Jamaican restaurants have curried goat. Want to know a good one from a great one? Well, probably you haven’t given it much thought. Understandable. Good curried goat, though (we know you really want to know), has a lot of broth still in it. At Mi-Hungry, you get the superior version: most of the cooking water has been boiled off. What’s left is a thicker concoction, fragrant with curry and moistened mostly by the fat of the goat. The curry-bright meat, along with little chunks of potatoes, is outstanding here, along with an order of that rice and peas—and remember by “peas” they mean dark kidney beans.
Look for tripe and beans on the menu; any outstanding Jamaican joint will have it. You don’t have to order it, but if it’s there, you’re in a Jamaican place that’s got the guts, so to speak, to present nyamnins, “home-style” Jamaican fare. Try it at Mi-Hungry, honeycomb tripe slow cooked with thyme, pepper, onion, and curry until it’s tender, absorbing all those flavors. Talking about the world’s great tripe dishes might sound as exciting as a discussion of the world’s most painful ear infections, we realize. Even so, Jamaican tripe and beans is right up there with the Ten Best Things You Can Do To Entrails, and Mi-Hungry’s presentation is an example of why.
Pasties, or beef patties, are another sure sign you’re in a superior Jamaican joint. The fried dough sheath is crispy, brown, flaky, and moist. Inside, it’s ground beef spiked with cardamom, turmeric, cumin, allspice, and a bunch of other spices that smell like you’re in Kingston and not in St Louis County.
There are the usual Jamaican offerings at Mi-Hungry: jerked chicken and pork, vinegary eschovitch, fried plantains, all of it made by owner, who’s from Jamaica, and his wife, who went to university in England, making this also one of the few places you can have both braised oxtail and a conversation on Jacobean architecture. The stews and curries are bubbling on the stove right in front of diners. In addition to the Jamaican fare, they have rib tips, chicken wings, pork steak, snoots (fried crispy, the only way to enjoy good snoot), and some superior collard-cabbage greens flavored with smoked turkey.
Mi-Hungry’s in the shell of an ancient Steak and Shake on the Rock Road, just west of I-170. (There are a couple of other locations as well). Half a dozen two-seat tables and a counter with stools make the place a diner. The menu makes it a dining destination.
Mi-Hungry Catering & BBQ Jamaican Cuisine, 8660 St. Charles Rock Road. 314-427-3368