It's around the time of year when I usually get excited about eating heavy stews and hearty, cold-season meals with roasted beets and butternut squash. Not this year. Instead, I've found a place that will bring a little heat to the winter, where the food not only warms me up inside, but evokes a place where it's warm outside.
Unassumingly located in the corner of a Nevada Avenue strip mall, Kingston Island Grill brings bona fide Jamaican cuisine to Colorado Springs at a fair price. So what if there's not much to look at inside, and seating is limited? If you can't find room at the three tables downstairs or the handful above, get your food to go. That's what most patrons of this lunch-oriented eatery do, anyway.
For hundreds of years, Jamaican cuisine has brought together a fascinating array of flavors, textures and colors. Central to the vigorous New World trade economy from the 16th to 19th centuries, this island's food reflects a mingling of its Arawak Indian past with the influences of visiting merchants, immigrants, pirates and slaves from Spain, England, India, Africa and China.
Perhaps best known for the allspice and scotch bonnet-laced jerk sauce, Jamaican cuisine features with equal prevalence other ingredients, such as ackee, calaloo and salted cod.
Island Grill offers the chance to try them all, in dishes ranging from $5 to $13. Its plump and juicy jerk chicken is seasoned with a flavorful dry rub and perfectly grilled, producing a hint of char and a crispy skin. Truly outstanding, its vivid reddish-orange jerk sauce brings a consistent, nuanced heat. I was hooked from the first bite, and wished I had asked for an extra serving on the side.
The Jamaican curry chicken is fantastic. Yellowish-brown curry sauce blends the rustic flavors of India with the lively, sweet and spicy elements characteristic of the Caribbean. An inspired combination, it makes the whole mouth tingle.
Equally compelling and tasty is the ackee with salted cod fish. Originally from Africa, ackee is classified as a fruit. I'd never had ackee before, and after careful consideration, I still find it difficult to define. It's bright yolk-yellow, with a semi-firm, slightly starchy texture and a subtle flavor that straddles sweet and savory. The sauce, laden with chunks of tomato, bell pepper and onion, is sweet and spicy, with a heat that builds but never becomes overbearing. Add a few flakes of the salted cod to each forkful and the dish really sings.
A choice of two sides accompanies each selection, with pigeon peas and yellow rice being the national favorites. They also have calaloo, a leafy green staple, and delicious johnny cakes, fried doughy dumplings much like the classic Southern hush puppy.
But I'm only scratching the surface of Island Grill's offerings. Jamaican fried red snapper and oxtails with beans are two of the dishes calling to me, just begging to be tried.
I'm fighting the cold this winter at Kingston Island Grill. You should do the same, and bring a little bit of the warmth and friendliness of the island life into your winter routine.
-- David Torres-Rouff
Kingston Island Grill
1107 S. Nevada Ave., 578-1468
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., except Wednesdays,
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.