I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel a lot in my life. I have been all over the US, North America, and Europe. However, I have never had the chance to visit anyplace in the Caribbean. The closest I have ever been to the Caribbean is Orlando, Florida when I stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World. Somehow, I don’t think it was entirely authentic.
Although my knowledge of the islands of the Caribbean is minimum, my insight about its cuisines is even worse. It came from surviving on Jamaican Meat Patties from street vendors in New York City or coming across the occasional jerk seasoning on some menu. I will say that I did love those meat patties. Cheap, hot and delicious.
But that was many, many years ago and I was a bit flummoxed when J. suggested we head over for Jamaican food at a little restaurant in South Phoenix. J.’s suggestion caught me off guard, but I always am up for trying a new place, so we headed on over to 27th Street and Broadway.
It took us a moment to realize where the restaurant was. The signage for Iri’e Jamaican Restaurant was pretty small, consisting of a small poster board outside and the name of the restaurant on the side trim of the building. But we did find it and pulled into the small parking lot. The restaurant is housed in a tiny shack of a building holding only a handful of tables. We entered and noticed the Bob Marley pictures on the wall and the reggae music playing throughout. We weren’t sure of the ordering situation because there was a white board with the menu handwritten on it and then orange sheets of paper with the full menu on it as well. A small counter holding the register, a display case for the Jamaican meat patties, and a stack of the menus had us confused as to whether we order at the counter or take a seat.
Luckily, a very kind woman saw the puzzled looks on our faces and told us to take a seat anywhere. We did and were given two copies of the menu. The menu was direct and simple. There were nine entrees to choose from, six side orders/extras, and fourteen choices of beverage. It only took J. and I a second to know what we wanted, so we placed our order with the hostess who was now our server. J. ordered the Brown Stew Chicken ($8.00) and a side of Fried Dumplings ($2.00). I went with the Jerk Chicken ($8.00) and a side of the Fried Dumplings ($2.00) as well. J. and I also decided to each get a Beef Patties ($2.00 each).
I wasn’t quite sure what to choose for the beverage, but our server suggested the Great Soda, a Jamaican soda that was served for celebrations. We decided to take our server’s recommendation, but I would have easily been convinced to try any of the other beverages including the Ginger Beer, Kola Champagne, or Sour Sap Juice.
When our Great Sodas arrived, they were served in tall plastic glasses with plenty of ice. The drink itself was interesting. It tasted like a mixture of cranberry and raspberry juices that had been mulled and then cooled and carbonated. I liked the taste, but this was full strength with lots of sugar and the richness of such a drink for a diet soda drinker had me calling it quits after half a glass. J. also enjoyed the beverage as well.
Our Beef Patties arrived and they were searing hot. I broke one open and was hit in the face with a pillar of steam. The aroma was fantastic. It was several minutes before they cooled and, upon taking a bite, I remembered all those food carts in NYC with their beef patties. They all paled in comparison to these. The patties were out of this world. The crust was bright yellow and flaky and the filling was ground beef with a savory brown sauce. This was a perfect appetizer, although three or four of those could have made a great lunch for myself. J. waited for the patty to cool as well and thought it was “exceptional.”
We waited about five minutes after we finished our patties until our entrees arrived. During that time, I ordered a Lemonade that was very good. J.’s entree was the first to arrive. The Brown Stew Chicken was at hot as the patties were. The steam was billowing off the plate, but the scent was comforting. J.’s plate was covered with the delicious looking stew, a serving of sauteed cabbage and carrots, and a large serving of rice and “peas” which were small kidney beans. J. took a bite of the stew and followed that with an “Oh, wow!” It was that good. It wasn’t spicy at all, but soothing and full of flavor. The chicken was exceptionally tender and the sauce was a great combination with it. J. loved the cabbage and carrots mixture and also raved about the rice and the peas. I was hoping that my Jerk Chicken would be just as good.
My Jerk Chicken platter arrived and the food had me salivating. The Jerk Chicken was a 1/4 chicken liberally treated with Jerk seasoning and then roasted. My first bite had me convinced that mine was even better than J.’s chicken. The meat was falling off the bone and the seasoning had my mouth on fire in moments. I savored every twinge on my lips. The chicken was stellar all the way around. My cabbage and carrot were excellent. The rice and peas were also quite good with the rice being fluffy and giving a nice contrast to the spice in the chicken. I had nothing but raves about this dish.
The Fried Dumplings were a hit with both J. and me. A thick dough had been dropped into the fryer and allowed to cook until the exterior was golden brown and the interior was similar to a homemade white bread. These were addictive. J. and I each had two and while that was plenty, the dumplings had us wanting to try more. These were quite grand and if I could have spread them with butter, I would have these instead of biscuits any day of the week.
Between the patties, dumplings, and our plate dishes, we were stuffed. Our server came by and told us the damage was a scant $24.00. This was a steal. The food was fresh and homemade with huge portion sizes. The service was very friendly and we felt like Mom was checking in on us to make sure we were happy and well fed. Oh, we were. No doubt about it.
So, we paid our bill and left and headed back to East Phoenix. I was glad that J. suggested Iri’e Jamaican Restaurant. What a wonderful little find on Broadway Road.
I don’t know if the Caribbean will ever be in my travel plans in the future, but at least there is a wonderful taste of it in Phoenix.
Iri’e Jamaican Restaurant
2727 East Broadway Road
Phoenix, AZ 85040
Hours: Monday through Saturday - 11:30 AM to 6:30 PM; Closed Sundays
Notes: Cash only. “Iri’e” means “feel good.”
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com