Welcome to the March edition of Global View Goes Out to Eat!
In this episode: I eat goat! We meet a real Jamaican, who for some inexplicable reason has chosen to live in Lansing, Michigan! I finally find out where Club Excel is!
Hey, guys. So in honor of Spring Break (which I am leaving for in a matter of hours, so sorry if this is rushed but honestly I value the beach more than I do this column), I have chosen to check out an authentic Jamaican restaurant this month.
Yes, there is a Jamaican restaurant in the East Lansing area. I’m surprised you’ve missed it as it’s appropriately named Palace of Jamaica and its exterior is emblazoned with green, yellow and black, the iconic colors of the Jamaican flag (you’ve seen Cool Runnings, haven’t you?). Oh wait, I know why you haven’t seen this place – it’s in downtown Lansing. And here, I repeat a slightly abbreviated version of my Lansing manifesto.
Students don’t go to downtown Lansing. You should go to downtown Lansing. Why? It’ a very short drive away. Parking is free after 6 p.m. Everything there is way less crowded by students. It’s fun and cool and you find interesting things there like hole-in-the-wall Jamaican restaurants.
And this place really is the definition of hole-in-the-wall, so although it was very good, if that’s not your thing, this might not be the place to you. It’s a tiny, two-table place between on the corner of Washington Square and Kalamazoo, next to a liquor store. It’s actually just down the street from Thai Village, which I reviewed in my first edition of this column. So far I can definitively say, Washington Square = good food.
Sidenote: If you take Michigan Avenue straight west from East Lansing then turn left on Washington Square, you pass Club Excel on your way there. I know! I always thought Club Excel was an urban legend! And that if I ever went to one of those parties there that everyone is always getting Facebook invites for, I’d probably get killed Craigslist-killer-style because it didn’t really exist! It actually looked pretty nice.
Anyways. The inside of Palace of Jamaica is pretty cool. Again, it’s tiny (I get the feeling they mostly do takeout business), but very interesting. The walls, like the exterior, are painted green, yellow and black and appropriately decorated with Bob Marley pictures, among other things. This place takes the stereotype to the fullest (at least aesthetically) and I’m into it. Also, the owner/chef was sitting right behind the counter watching YouTube videos – no headphones – the whole time we were there, which added a certain something to the atmosphere (Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, anyone?)
But let’s get down to the important stuff – the food. There are no menus at Palace of Jamaica (well there’s actually a list of things taped to the counter, but I didn’t see that until we paid, so I’m sticking with no menus). When we walked in and sat down, the owner/chef just told us a few options and we picked from those.
There were no vegetarian options, though, so when my friend told him she was a vegetarian, he just gave her kind of a squinting look. But, he later delivered what she reported to be an amazing vegetarian meal (even though she had absolutely no idea what was coming). It was essentially rice and beans with a bunch of veggies and some sauce. From my point of view, there seemed to be pretty much every vegetable in existence thrown in there: bell pepper, corn, broccoli, onion, carrot, cabbage, peas, asparagus, zucchini and green beans were immediately identifiable. The sauce was kind of a mix of spicy and sweet, but not sweet like I generally expect Jamaican food to be (like with cinnamon and cloves). I can’t really think of how else to describe it so clearly I’m a terrible imitation of a food writer and you should stop reading right now. But please don’t, actually.
My second friend got the jerk chicken, and I got the curry goat (basically because it was the most interesting option offered). Both entrees came with rice and beans, steamed cabbage and fried plantains. The jerk chicken had a similar spice to the vegetarian dish, a mix of spicy and sweet, but definitely not the jerk chicken they make in the cafeteria, that stuff that has like little pieces of mango on top. The curry goat was a totally different flavor. I’ve never had goat before, but it was kind of like a cross between lamb and beef but with a more game-y flavor, if that makes sense. The curry sauce reminded me a lot of Indian-style curries, but not as spicy. This dish isn’t for the faint of heart – there are pretty big bones scattered throughout, but it was definitely something cool to try.
The rice and beans were a standard version of this dish, but done very well. One of my friends said it was her favorite thing about the meal. Personally, I really like the steamed cabbage, which is weird because I never really thought I liked cabbage that much. But this was actually very similar to the cabbage I had at the Ethiopian place, Altu’s: it was buttery and mild, without the strong flavor you might associate with cabbage. The final side, fried plantains, was the most universally liked item. “My new favorite thing,” one friend said. “Kind of like a sweet potato chip.” That is actually a really good description, because although I was expecting the equivalent of fried bananas, the plantains were really very starchy with just a hint of sweetness. Plus a crispy outside =
We also got ginger beers with our meal. Ginger beer is basically ginger-flavored pop (it’s non-alcoholic) but it’s kind of spicy in a very non-American-style-pop kind of way. It was also super sweet, which was kind of too much on its own, but went really well with the spicy food. If you like ginger, I would highly recommend giving this a try.
My conclusions about this place:
– You should probably go here, if only to observe a Rastafarian listen to Justin Bieber on YouTube
– Try something interesting off the menu, just because this is an interesting place
– You might want to try takeout if you’re uncomfortable being the only person in there/in close quarters with the chef
– Fried plantains are bomb
– SPRING BREAK ’12!!!!!!!