Where: Mrs. B's Reggae Café, 3103 Broad St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Price range: $2.50 for a Jamaican chicken or beef patty sandwich to $17 for a dinner-size portion of spicy Jamaican curry goat.
When we got to Mrs. B's Reggae Café on a recent weeknight, the parking lot was empty and we had the place to ourselves.
From the exterior, it was hard to be certain the restaurant was even open, but with the first crack of the door, a wall of delicious aroma hit us. This combination of smoke and spice left no doubt of the tastes that were coming and that somebody in there was cooking away.
You might even wonder why you can't see palm trees and the Caribbean outside the window once you settle down to a table with soft reggae music setting the mood.
Mrs. B's Reggae Café quietly opened on April 19 on south Broad Street in the building that was once home to Soup's On, but the new owners are no newcomers. The man in the kitchen is well-known chef Neville Forsyth- formerly of Chef's Underground and The Palms - and his wife joins him with a lineup of rum cakes and other beautiful-looking, tempting desserts.
The young waitress told us to have a seat anywhere, and she dropped off menus while she quickly got our drinks.
We reviewed the lineup and learned that dinner-size portions were available only Thursday through Saturday, so I worried that we might leave still a little hungry. That fear was completely unfounded.
I'm not very familiar with Jamaican food, so it was all kind of new to me. The menu had good descriptions of the dishes, and the waitress helpfully answered questions when we weren't sure.
For starters, there's a lineup of soups and salads with Jamaican flavor, including garden salad ($4), red skin potato salad ($5), Jamaican pepperpot soup ($6), Calypso chicken salad ($9) and jerk chicken salad ($7.50).
Sandwiches include a Jamaican beef or chicken patty ($2.50), jerk burger ($7.25), jerk chicken sandwich ($7.50) and jerk pork ($7.50). Mrs. B's wings ($8) and reggae pasta ($11) round out the odd mix under the "Sandwiches and More" category.
Entrees include jerk chicken ($11) a half chicken marinated overnight in island spices and cooked so tender it falls apart if you just talk loud. The dinner portion is $14. Jerk pork ($12 for lunch, $15 for dinner) is rubbed in jerk spices and slow-cooked.
Can't decide? I couldn't either. I got the combo plate ($12 for lunch, $16 for dinner).
There's also a vegetable curry ($9 lunch, $11 for dinner) and reggae pasta ($11/$15), which is linguine topped with vegetable curry or tossed with extra-virgin olive oil and jerk spices.
Each of the lunch and dinner entrees come with a choice of three sides; plain rice ($2), festivals ($4), Callaloo ($3 when available), seasoned cabbage ($2.50), rice and gungu peas ($3.75), fried plantains ($3.50), Jamaican coleslaw ($2) and vegetable medley ($3.50).
There are daily specials to check out, too. Tuesday's special is Jamaican brown stew chicken ($13 lunch, $17 dinner), Wednesday's is pork curry ($13/$17), Thursday's is succulent braised oxtail ($15/$17), and the special on Fridays and Saturdays features the spicy Jamaican curry goat ($15/$17), which is a hot and spicy stew of simmered onions, peppers, garlic, potatoes, curry powder and fresh herbs and spices.
Note, again, that dinner portions aren't available early in the week, but the quantities in either case are more than ample.
Mrs. B and the reggae chef are also known for rich and delicious desserts that are featured in a case up front, but I had my eyes set on the seasoning-laden meats that set my mouth watering when we walked in.
I ordered the combo, figuring I'd test out the jerk chicken and pork in a lunch-size meal. I got sides of seasoned cabbage, vegetable medley and rice and gungu peas. The pork and chicken both were spicy, rich and flavorful, fork-tender and smothered in jerk sauce. The vegetable medley was made of delicious long strips of squash, onion and carrot; the cabbage was slightly sweet and full of island flavor. The rice with gungu peas had an earthy, spicy taste that I found very curious and a good balance for the other, sweeter flavors.
My wife opted for the jerk chicken sandwich with a side of Jamaican coleslaw, and my adult son chose jerk chicken with sides of festivals, plantains and the same rice dish I had. My wife said the bread on her sandwich was also especially good.
I nicked a bite of everybody's sides to find the festivals an interesting sweet bread, the plantains nicely prepared and tasty and the coleslaw good enough to fight over.
We kept marveling over how tender and richly flavored the meat was and how well our entrees and sides complemented the main dishes. We also agreed that lunch-size portions were fine, and we weren't sure if we could even finish a dinner portion. Don't worry about walking away hungry.
Since we arrived around 6 p.m. and were the only diners there at first, the service was friendly and immediate. When other diners arrived and several people dropped in to pick up carry-out orders, there was no lull in attention from our server, and the owners came out to talk to patrons. "Mrs. B" is actually Forsythe's mother-in-law from Jamaica, we were told. A photo of the restaurant's namesake is on the way. Even as the place got busier, our server kept our drinks full and seemed genuinely interested in what we thought of our meals.
It's clear the owners focused on the interior first. The inside is completely repainted in a deep maroon with bright, golden yellow trim. Everything is spotlessly clean. The building exterior is in good shape, but the parking lot looks a little forlorn. I expect that'll be one of their last updates, so just park there, go in and eat.
There are eight, two-person tables, four, four-person tables, and single table for six. Each table was decorated with a vase with fresh flowers.
The owners said more décor was coming and the menu will be expanded as it gets established, possibly containing some Chef Neville specialties from the past.
My family and I were absolutely taken with the restaurant, and I predict we'll become frequent flyers there. My wife and son, usually not fans of anything new, loved everything they ordered. A testament to Mrs. B's goodness is the fact that we continued to talk about our meals for the next few days. The curry goat dish and rum cakes are next on my must-try list.
I look forward to seeing this spot on South Broad take off as Mrs. B's Reggae Café becomes ensconced in the dining scene. It's a great option for any night.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.