Although my absolute adoration with Caribbean food started with the beef patty, over the years it has expanded to include curry chicken, jerk chicken, oxtails, curry goat – each coming with a side of perfectly seasoned rice and peas and sweet plantains. There wasn’t a dish that I would not turn down.
I was still able to enjoy Caribbean food when I made the switch to a meat-free lifestyle a few years ago.
Instead of a beef or chicken patty, I would order the vegetable or fish patty. Instead of ordering an oxtail or goat entree, I would go with the snapper escovitch or the ackee and salt fish. (By the way, I feel like such a daredevil each time I have ackee and salt fish. If not properly prepared, ackee can be toxic to the eater.) I was quite satisfied with these dishes. But a text from a friend a few days prior had set me diligently on the course to get to Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine. The text, simple and with only 4 words, read: I miss jerk chicken. For many more years than me, he too had followed a meat-free lifestyle. In that moment, I realized that I missed jerk chicken too, in addition to the curry and stew chicken. After reading the text, I made the decision to visit Mark’s to follow up on a promise that had been made months ago: the promise of good, tofu-made Caribbean favorites.
Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine is very easy to miss, both because it is nestled deep inside a corner of an outdoor shopping strip and because the storefront wouldn’t beckon even the most adventurous eater inside its doors. It was the reviews I read on Foursquare that got me there for my first visit and the promise of more great food that brought me back there that Friday.
Seeing a picture of ackee and salt fish on the store’s menu board made me tempted to order it. Instead, I asked for a list of tofu dishes. My options were soy curry, jerk, and stew. My first decision was jerk until I learned of the dish’s heat meter (very spicy). At the recommendation of the kind man taking my order, I went with the customer favorite, soy stew.
I sat down in anticipation and a little nervousness for the experience I was about to have. Each order is made fresh, so it took about 15 minutes for my plate to arrive. With a little added drama, the plate was placed on the table over my shoulder, so I was surprised when instead of a person I saw this glorious plate of food sitting in front of me. The chunks of what looked to be beef made me throw a number of questions at the server before he left the table: “Wait, is this tofu?” “Are you sure?” With a laugh, he calmly answered in his Caribbean accent, “Yes, I eat it all the time.”
Once I got past my initial shock of a possible beef/tofu mix-up, I was excited to dip my fork into the plate. The Vegetarian Soy Stew included chunks of beef like tofu surrounded by a bed of carrots, onions, and green pepper slices and wedges of potatoes, covered by a dark stew. The vegetables were cooked perfectly with the potatoes having a nice firmness and the peppers a mix between crisp and soft. What made this dish, however, was the seasoning. Both the dark gravy and the soy chunks were seasoned just the way one would expect from a Caribbean dish. I was actually quite surprised that time had been taken to properly season the soy chunks. Each chunk was infused with the spices of the dish. Cabbage, a small plantain, and rice and peas were excellent additions. To say that the dish was amazing, would not be saying much at all. I’m not sure any words would, actually. But I will say this, the dish made me less nostalgic about my old Caribbean food stomping grounds. No need for old memories when I was creating new, tasty, meat-free ones.
Mark’s Caribbean Cuisine is locally owned and operated by Chef Mark Jathan. After 7 years of being in business, it has outlasted fellow Caribbean restaurants and has come to be one of very few that serves tofu dishes. In addition to soy/meat-free dishes, Mark’s menu also includes traditional Caribbean favorites including patties, stewed beef, curry chicken, and more. The restaurant is located at 10034 University Blvd.