Currying Favorites

Belltown's underappreciated Jamaican cafe serves a mean jerk chicken, plus all the akee you can eat.

While there's no shortage of Thai, Mexican, teriyaki, or pan-Asian eateries in Seattle, Jamaican restaurants are something of a rarity. That's one reason Belltown's Coco Tree Cafe is such a welcome addition to the lively stretch of bars and restaurants between Bell and Blanchard on Second Avenue. The criminally underpatronized Coco Tree seems to have small cabal of regulars, all of whom know the staff as well as they do the menu, but few outsiders seem to venture in. On an average night, agreeable reggae floats around the room while a pressure cooker rattles away in the back kitchen. Jerk chicken ($6.50 half-order/$14 full), perhaps Jamaica's most widely recognized culinary export, takes the top spot on the menu, and things get increasingly ambitious from there. Consider, for example, the curry goat ($8/$12) or the ox tail ($8/$12, served Thursday through Sunday), whose blend of seasonings gives it a flavor similar to that of beef stew. For the truly adventurous, there's cow foot served with butter beans ($12). Jamaican native and chef Troy Anglin prepares all the dishes in traditional style; for most dishes, that means the meat is cooked on the bone. This method requires some manual labor on the diner's part, so consider this a caveat to those with bone phobias. However, it is well worth the effort. Even small orders are generous at Coco Tree, and every dish is served with either white rice or lightly seasoned rice and peas ("peas" is Jamaican for pinto beans, so that's what you get with your rice). Anglin's application of allspice, a Jamaican seasoning staple, is moderate, exposing bastardized American attempts at similar cooking techniques for the frauds they are (Red Robin Jerk Chicken Burger, anyone?). A true standout on the menu is the akee and saltfish, made with cod ($14). The fish is fried, providing an excellent contrast to the akee—a bulbous red fruit with poisonous seeds related to the lychee—which is so soft it melts on the tongue, almost like butter. Both are tossed with sautéed red and green bell peppers. Several items, including the ox tail, the stewed peas, and the Jamaican-style chicken soup, are served only Thursdays, Fridays, and/or on the weekend. At $3 apiece, the Jamaican patties—flaky crust pockets filled with your choice of beef, chicken, or vegetables—are a must-try. In addition to sodas, Coco Tree offers various Jamaican drinks ($3), including coconut and soursop juices and cola champagne, which tastes like cream soda. No hard pop here, though—the owner, Sierra Leone native Issa Jawara, who started the restaurant with several friends in April, is a practicing Muslim. Several dessert dishes are available; one standout is the bread pudding with raisins ($4), served piping hot, which is hardly a reason not to dig in immediately. Coco Tree Cafe, 2224 Second Ave., 206-256-2280. BELLTOWN. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Tues.–Thurs.; 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Fri.–Sat.; 1–8 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.

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