If you go
› Where: Mrs. B’s Reggae Cafe, 3103 Broad St.
› Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner 4:30-10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
› Entree price range: $8.99-$30
› Alcohol: Bottled beer
› Phone: 423-702-5808
› Website: mrsbsreggaecafe.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga restaurants that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
I've been a devotee of Jamaican food from the first time I tried jerk chicken years ago. Along with Thai and Indian, I find Jamaican to be one of the more complex cuisines to truly savor. Jerk's intermingling of allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers with cloves, cinnamon, garlic, brown sugar, nutmeg and other ingredients can make feasting on chicken, pork or beef ribs a transcendent experience when properly prepared. Jerk's sweet heat finds perfect complements in milder Caribbean sides like plantains, callaloo and black beans. Add an ice cold Jamaican Red Stripe lager to soothe the burn and you're in business.
Mrs. B's Reggae Cafe is one of just a few restaurants in Chattanooga to offer authentic Jamaican food, and they do it so well. The eatery, which celebrated its third anniversary this year, is one of a small handful of places in town that I never get tired of visiting. On my most recent trip, I found myself exchanging a series of texts beforehand with my friend Travis, psyched at the thought of a mid-afternoon lunch at Mrs. B's, almost as if we were going to a major concert or other event. It's really that good.
Chef Neville Forsythe, the mastermind behind Mrs. B's culinary creations, has been known to local foodies for decades. One of his previous restaurants, Chef's Underground Cafe, was literally below Walnut Street in the basement of the Flatiron building. At the time, Forsythe routinely served up some of the most delicious and culturally adventurous dining experiences to be had in the city. Joined by his wife, Marilyn, Forsythe continues at Mrs. B's to help make Chattanooga's food scene every bit as vibrant as any of the city's regional neighbors.
Mrs. B's is on South Broad Street in a building that's previously housed several other concepts, most notably Soup's On, which flourished there for years. It's fairly small and kind of dark. Colorful posters, newspaper clippings and photographs dot the walls here and there, as classic reggae and jazz usually plays low in the background. Banana trees out front bolster the island vibe in summer.
You can't go wrong with an order of Mrs. B's Lollipop Jerk Wings ($8 for six, $12 for 10) for starters. These tender, succulent wings have the requisite heat and are served on a small bed of shredded lettuce and scallions. Get enough of them and it's a meal unto itself. The Red Skin Potato Salad ($4.99) is also good.
While I usually opt for a quarter Jerk Chicken ($8.99) or Jerk Burger ($7.99), I chose this time to try the Curry Chicken ($12.99) — skinless, boneless chicken simmered in herbs, curry and vegetables. I ordered sweet plantains and a couple of Festivals (Jamaican fried dumplings) for the two sides that come with it. Word-of-mouth has been spreading this fall about Mrs. B's new Voodoo Chicken ($14), so Travis decided to try that. Our server brought extra plates so we could each sample both dishes.
Not surprising, both were very good. The Curry Chicken does not have a lot of heat (compared to some items at Mrs. B's) but the flavor is incredible, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who doesn't like spicy food. On the other hand, I knew when I saw the special on the board offering $3 Red Stripes if you order the Voodoo Chicken, that that dish was going to burn. The chicken is cooked slowly in a stew of jerk spices, chopped onion and peppers and is served with rice, coconut strips and pineapple slices. It's one of the spiciest dishes I've ever had. The bold richness of the flavors makes it worth the discomfort, though, and I was already making a mental note when leaving to order it on my next visit.
Other entrée options at Mrs. B's include Ackee and Saltfish, Spicy Ginger Pork, Curry Goat and Escovechied Fish.
In light of the main menu's spice quotient, the restaurant recently rolled out an American menu for those who can't handle the heat. About a half dozen items including Chicken Confit, Braised Ham Hocks and Savory Meatloaf suggest there's really something for everyone at Mrs. B's.
Several desserts are usually available, but the crème brulée and rum cakes, in particular, are recommended.
I've never had bad service at Mrs. B's, even when it's crowded. You do occasionally have to wait a while for the entrées as most everything is prepped and cooked to order, so it's good to stop by when you're not in a hurry. The Forsythes and staff are friendly and accommodating.
Enjoy spicy food, with a hint of the exotic? Tired of chain restaurants and their slick branding and predictable menus? Then stop by Mrs. B's Reggae Cafe. If this place is good enough for Team Jamaica, which dined there prior to a soccer match against Team USA at Finley Stadium, it's good enough for me.
Contact Chris Zelk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-6244.