Standing in front of the counter at Jamaicaway Catering & Restaurant in the Nashville Farmers Market, I was having a hard time narrowing my choices: the curried goat or the jerk chicken? The meat patty or the red snapper? I wanted it all.
The woman next to me in line was mired in a different quandary; she wore a puzzled look as she studied the trays of food. The woman behind the counter flashed an inviting smile and asked how she might help. “Is this food real spicy?” inquired the prospective customer. “It is spiced, but not spicy, except for the jerk chicken,” answered Ouida Bradshaw, the owner of this month-and-a-half-old eatery, the newest offering in the Farmers Market’s global buffet.
Bradshaw was born in Jamaica and came to America when she was 12 years old. When her previously stay-at-home mom got a job, she taught herself to cook so that dinner would be ready when her mother came home from work. For 19 years, Bradshaw was a schoolteacher in Massachusetts before moving to Williamson County four years ago. A year later, she left education to start a catering business out of Franklin, cooking Jamaican specialties for corporate functions, celebrations and family gatherings. “I had it in my head for four years to have my own place,” she says. “This space came open, and it just felt right. The other tenants here are so nice; everyone helps each other. You have many choices at the Farmers Market, and I am happy to offer one more.”
Indeed, Jamaicaway sits directly across from El Burrito Mexicano, Joe’s Barbecue & Fish and a gyro stand; it’s catty-corner from Swett’s and around the corner from Parco Cafe. The name of the business, Bradshaw explains, describes the style of cooking: It’s not totally Jamaican, as ingredients can be hard to come by here, but it is the Jamaican way.
I had some of the most delicious meals I have ever tasted while on vacation in Negril, Jamaica, about 15 years ago. Save for one trip to a sit-down restaurant up on the cliffs, we got all our food from small places on the beach. For breakfast, it was fresh fruit and coconut milk; for lunch, it was some type of patty or ackee, a tropical fruit cooked with peppers and onions. During the day, we’d watch young Jamaican men hauling in nets filled with the fish and shellfish that would be our dinner later that evening. It would be impossible to repeat my Jamaican experience here in landlocked Tennessee, but Bradshaw’s restaurant brought a smile to my face and a wash of memories, particularly as I dug into the salt fish and ackee plate.
Ackee was brought from West Africa to Jamaica by Captain Bligh in 1793. (Bradshaw gets hers shipped from Atlanta.) When fully ripe, it bursts open to reveal a soft, creamy white flesh pocked with large black seeds. When chopped and cooked, the meat of the fruit turns yellow, and the result is something that looks and tastes like scrambled eggs. Salt fish and ackee is pretty much the national dish of Jamaica; the saltiness of the dried fishusually codbalances the mild flavor of the ackee.
The patties are small turnovers of light dough wrapped around different fillings, then fried. The currieschicken, goat, mutton and oxtail, usuallyare highly seasoned, but not as spicy as some Indian or Thai curries. The flavor of the meat, particularly the goat, is central to these hearty stews, which are best ordered with Bradshaw’s yellow rice; the color comes not from saffron, but from the butternut squash puree she adds to the basmati rice. The “jerk” in jerk chicken refers to the style of cooking, which involves rubbing meat with a hot spice mix of Scotch bonnet peppers, onion and garlic before pit barbecuing or rotisserie cooking. Bradshaw offers two versions, mild and authentic; the latter is quite spicy, but not tongue-scorching.
All dishes come with your choice of two sides. Along with the yellow rice, Jamaicaway serves rice and peas, a sautéed vegetable mix, and other vegetables, including green beans and cabbage.
Bradshaw makes and bottles her own mango/guava/passion fruit juice; she also serves sorrel, a tangy, sweet beverage commonly found in many Caribbean eateries. A small dish of cut fruit in thick, amaretto-flavored whipped cream is a sweet dream of a dessert.