Once located in a King Street plaza near Wilfrid Laurier…
Rainbow Caribbean Cuisine
Address: 29 King Street E, Kitchener
Open: Monday-Saturday at 9 a.m.; Sunday at noon
Cost: Dinner for two with Mauby: $40
Amuse-bouche: A rollicking fun excursion into the simple but delicious cookery of Jamaica. A range of flavours and textures are made in-house from the pleasant patty to the lineup of jerks—the delicious chicken and pork that is.
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I absolutely love Rainbow Caribbean Cuisine in the heart of downtown Kitchener’s core. Its simplicity and laid-back style is tasty and fun.
So to the layers of flavours found in the city whipped up in the form of pupusas, fermented teff-flour injera bread, and even a sword-brandishing passadore slicing and dicing his way to your table with a chunk of sirloin rodizio-style, add Jamaican, “Mon.” The flavours in this hearty comfort-food rock.
Owner and cook Jim Nicholas says that the business has been running for about 12 years, and it seems to have a regular and diverse clientele—and one proclaiming the excellence of the cooking to be found there.
The setting and decor are simple enough—a dozen tables or so in the narrow restaurant are an aisle over from a cafeteria-style tray-service line. The various dishes are available to look at and read about on the menu boards above. Televisions on the back wall provide an urban resto background din.
However, it’s not just the sons and daughters of Jamaica who come in alone or in family groups; it’s many others too. Business types pop in for a lunch mid-week as do what we might call hyper-self-conscious youth sporting goofy sideways-mounted ball caps and droopy-drawers and trying to look tough—that they love the inexpensive and dynamic tasting patties betrays that urban pose.
The patty-as-turnover takes many forms, both sweet and savoury. You can take the Pepperidge Farm route (yuck), or the British route with a little delicacy called the Cornish pasty. But you can also find a tasty connecting flight to Central America for the empanada or the Jamaican patty.
A case could be made for the patty being the gateway munchie into Caribbean Cuisine’s culinary oeuvre. When you get them fresh and hot, and for only $1.40, they are a small miracle of flavour.
They start with a filling of ground beef, chicken, or veg to which is added green peas, onion, garlic, some carrot, salt and pepper. It’s then kicked into high gear with a spice islands curry-ish, cumin-ish seasoning and moderate spice-heat.
They practically glow golden with a mild yellow-eggy addition in the pastry which can be divine and flakey and usually denies too much grease and oil. The coloured dots, or the absence of a dot on a patty, indicate the type of filling in some places. At Caribbean Cuisine, it indicates level of heat provided by the scotch bonnet pepper. At any Scoville-level, patties are indeed one the world’s great on-the-go snack foods.
Small cod fritters (three for $1.25) are another choice and simple delicacy, even though a bit of microwaving has toughened them up a bit. There’s still a decent fish flavour and saltiness to the little morsels.
From a few fish dishes—including cod and kingfish—the small red snapper dinner ($12) asks you to be careful picking around the bones and skeletal structure of the head-on fish. What yields is a sweetish, low-fat flesh and crispy skin that is served with some of Caribbean Cuisine’s delicious and satisfying rice and peas, a bit of plantain and some callaloo, a green-leaf and rich stew-like side that has some spice and garlic notes. The grassiness often ends up in soups along with bits of meat, maybe some cod and some yam bits.
The oxtail stew ($15) is spot-on, with a deep, rich beefy flavour and nicely textured meat. Ditto the curried goat and curried chicken (both $14). The kitchen finds a proper balance of rich curry flavours and pleasing textures here and serves it with the rice and peas and some just barely caramelized plantain.
The fairly extensive menu also includes cakes, puddings, ice creams and a host of tropical beverages like sorrel and the buckthorn tree-bark bevie mauby for $2. How unique is that?
Among my favourite is “yard style” breakfast and it’s a curious one, especially the name. Nicholas says it’s just (and I quote) “the Caribbean style”—probably one where the weather is fine and you can munch the morning meal outdoors all year round.
Where North Americans might have bacon and eggs, Jamaicans might have ackee, the tropical fruit with the custardy whitish-yellow flesh that blends so well as a counterpoint to the pepperiness, pungency and saltiness of a bit of cod fish. It looks much like scrambled egg, in fact.
A dense and filling boiled dumpling joins the ackee along with lightly grilled plantain and a yam. What results is a filling breakfast and one with more edge than bacon and eggs. I could eat it every morning. Mackerel and callaloo versions are also available.
Now, at times, the microwave comes into play here and ends up sometimes altering some of the good textures, such as the case with the delicious cod fritters—but let’s remember that this does stand in as quick take-away street food as well.
Having said that, this is a restaurant that cooks up Jamaican comfort food and there’s a great sense of pride in what they are doing here: that pride and passion is obvious in the cooking. Christmas is still four months away, but for those flavours and the chillaxed environment at the restaurant, I doff my sideways-mounted ball cap to Saint Nicholas and his Caribbean Cuisine.
Restaurant reviews are based on anonymous and unannounced visits to the establishments. Restaurants do not pay for any portion of the reviewer’s meal. Listen to “The Food Show” Sundays at noon on 570 All News Radio. Andrew Coppolino can be reached at email@example.com.