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Posted April 1, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Jamaican me hungry: Local eateries bring Caribbean cuisine to Winchester
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Diners don't need to fly south for a taste of Caribbean cuisine.
They can find the flavor of the islands tucked away at two cafes in the city.
The slightest breeze blows the aroma of curried chicken and Jamaican jerk spices from the open door of Tropical Island Coffee & Cafe and out along the sidewalk. Lloyd Washington, a native of Jamaica, opened the cafe at 39 W. Piccadilly St., in January 2008. Since turning the former Daily Grind location into the cafe, Washington has established a following that continues to grow, he said.
"By now, someone has heard something about us," Washington said in his Jamaican accent.
But people are still learning about the business through word of mouth or by noticing it while driving by the cafe on the corner, he said.
On a busy afternoon, with most of the tables and barstools occupied, Washington pointed out several regular customers but noted he continues to see new people patronize the business.
As he helped prepare a coffee drink for someone, a customer came up and asked for a glass of water after starting her lunch.
"Is someone on fire?" Washington joked.
"I forgot it's spicy," the woman replied.
Caribbean cuisine, as Washington described it, often involves curry and jerk spices as well as a lot of garlic and onions. Jamaican curry, he explained, is not as hot, as in spicy, as the kind found in Indian cuisine.
Menu items at the cafe include chicken marinated in Jamaican jerk sauce with rice, peas and other vegetables; chicken marinated in curry sauce; chicken steamed in Jamaican herbs and spices; curried goat and ox tails also steamed in Jamaican spices. He also serves red snapper.
The cafe also sells spiced meat pies and fried plantains, similar to bananas, both of which are popular treats in Jamaica, Washington said.
On the less exotic side, Washington serves chicken wings in barbecue sauce, as well as ham or turkey and cheese sandwiches.
Washington said what sets his food apart from many other eateries has as much to do with process of making their cuisine as the spices and all-natural seasonings.
"We marinate it so that it's not just hot, but there is flavor that comes with it," Washington said. "The way we cook it, the amount of time we put into it and the flavor, it makes it totally different than the regular chicken that you're gonna get at a chain restaurant."
The restaurateur also boasts the "coffee" part of the business, offering Jamaican Blue Mountain, and says he sells the "best cup of coffee you will find in town." Washington sells espresso and other coffee drinks as well as smoothies and tea. He also makes a Negril sunrise and a Negril sunset -- a sweet coffee drink served either hot or cold.
"What we do here is very unique -- unique in the sense that we try to do it as authentic as possible," Washington said. "What you get here is what [you get] when you go to a lot of Jamaican restaurants ... and actually get the same flavor, the same style in terms of presentation and taste."
A family from Jamaica started a similar restaurant in Winchester's north end in May 2008. Dinia "Donna" Williams, her daughter, Kenisha Bridgemohan, and Williams' sister, Eileen Smith, operate Island Delights Caribbean Take-Out at 805 N. Loudoun St.
While they offer entrees similar to those made at Washington's cafe, they also have other items on their menu, such as pineapple chicken, pepper steak, and seafood such as shrimp, kingfish, tilapia and red snapper. They also serve cow foot and beans, as well as liver and onions.
The cafe makes ackee and salt fish, known as Jamaica's "national dish."
Other items include steamed cabbage and steamed callaloo, similar to collard greens, and porridges such as their popular style made from peanuts.
Breakfast is served on Saturdays, but Bridgemohan said they hope to expand that and make it available every morning.
Asked what's special about Jamaican cuisine, Williams replied with a smile: "It's delicious."
"You can't get rid of the flavor," she added. "What kind of word can I say? Like your taste buds, you just keep remembering what it tastes like."
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