Caribbean Kitchen: Heaping Plates of Home Cooked Caribbean Dishes

By Cathy Adams

     While "jerk" spices (a hot blend of herbs and spices) have become popular in mainstream restaurants, few places serve real Caribbean home cooked dishes. The Caribbean Kitchen, on Liberty Street in downtown Baltimore, does. "Nothing here is from a can, even the beans. I make everything, the macaroni and cheese, the cole slaw. I cook everything fresh," said Shirley Lewis, the owner and chef, who was born in Jamaica.

     Even after 28 years in Baltimore, the soft lilt of an islands accent has not been replaced by the harsher tones of Baltimore.

     She opened the casual carry-out Caribbean Kitchen four years ago, and serves a combination of American and Caribbean meals to an eclectic group of customers; some who are nostalgic about vacations in Jamaica, and some who are adventurous and willing to try a heaping plate of curried goat, served with rice and peas.

     "Well, I used to cook and entertain at home a lot, and I grew up in my family's (restaurant) business in Jamaica," she said. The small luncheonette counter with stools and Jamaican music, has a friendly, homey atmosphere, the kind of place where Lewis says good-bye to customers with a cheerful "thank you, sweetie."

     In addition to the spicy, crispy skinned jerk chicken (available in mild and hot), she makes curried chicken and goat, oxtails, callahoo and codfish, pepper steak, beef patties and brown stewed chicken. Lewis pointed out that not all the food is spicy, and she makes a variety of vegetarian side dishes as well.

     Callaloo and codfish is a dish of spicy cooked greens, with enough heat to be cooling on a hot day mixed with dried codfish that has been soaked and deboned and flaked, and served with a cooked banana, dumpling and yam, a meal that "fills you up," said Lewis.

     Another popular item is the lake trout sub or sandwich. Deboned lake trout is grilled to order, served on bread sturdy enough to absorb the sauce and juices. Plantains are thickly sliced, dropped in hot oil and fried until done.

     "The sweetness depends on the plantains," she explained. Unfortunately the Caribbean Kitchen only accepts call-in orders "if I know you real good," because too many people would call and then not show up.

     Lewis is interested in relocating and opening up a sit-down restaurant since she has limited seated space. The counter can become crowded but her customers are willing to stand up and eat, when "they want good food," she said.

The Caribbean Kitchen
218 North Liberty Street
Hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 11-5
Wednesday and Friday 11-8

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