I was just about to go through the Chesapeake Avenue entrance of the Towson Library when I saw a sign across the street in the window of Rasta's Caribbean Cuisine. The sign read: "Under new management." This piqued my interest, because this restaurant seemed to always be closed whenever I was in the area. So being the curious "Jane on the spot" reporter that I am (not really), I walked over to investigate the matter. That's when I met the new restaurant owner, Oneil Spencer. The new owner has a new name for the restaurant as well. It is now called Sunset Jamaica.
When asked about the name, both Oneil Spencer (owner) and his daughter Trecia Spencer (assistant manager) commented about the name having a funny story. I was all ears. The gist of the story revolves around the fact that they are Seventh Day Adventists, so on Saturdays the restaurant will not open until after sunset-Saturday being their Sabbath, of course. Clever. The other part of the story is much simpler. It refers to the beautiful sunsets in Jamaica. So, Sunset Jamaica's name also pays homage to the beauty of their homeland. The restaurant's interior pays homage as well, with its tropical feel and the colors of the Jamaican flag on the wall. As you order your meal, an image of Jamaica's native son, Bob Marley, greets you. It's a reminder that this really is a slice of Jamaica in Towson.
Now that you know about the backstory and the ambience, what about the food? In a word; it's authentic. But what would you expect from someone who used to sell jerk chicken from a roadside grill in his native Clarendon, Jamaica. Spencer would not have it any other way, saying, "The food is our culture."Spencer's passion ignites talking about the natural aspect of Jamaican cuisine, "It comes from the ground . . . sweet potatoes, sugar cane, coconuts..." And boy-oh-boy can he tell you a thing or two about cooking with coconuts. He will let you know, unequivocally, that you can use the cococunt to cook anything, utilizing everything from its milk to its oil.
In the short time since Sunset Jamaica's grand opening on February 3rd, Spencer has seen a broad spectrum of people walking through the doors of the restaurant. People from Towson's business district, jurors on lunch break from Towson's courthouse, and students from Towson University have all come by to experience the new restaurant. Although, jerk chicken, curry chicken and oxtails are the standard orders, Spencer also has saltfish and ackee, festival, fried fish, callaloo and a Sunday brunch which includes different varieties of porridge.
During my visit I had the jerk chicken and oxtail, both with a vegetable medley, plantains and rice and peas. Now before you start thinking I ate all of that food, just know that I did eat all of that food. I just did not eat it all at one setting . . . I took it home. The portions were quite hefty and the food was extremely enjoyable. However, I really enjoyed my personal lesson on eating Jamaican food. Now, don't get me wrong, I have eaten Jamaican food, and I occasionally cook certain things as well, but when I went to grab my knife and fork to eat the jerk chicken I think that was all Spencer could take. I was flat out told that I was not eating it right.
Cooks want you to eat their food right and apparently I was not. Spencer told me I needed to eat the jerk chicken with my hands. I must admit that it was more enjoyable that way-just messier. I guess, sometimes, you can't do "pretty" when you are eating a hearty meal, and this meal was hearty. The chicken was spicy but not so hot that you couldn't eat it without slurping down water after each bite. It was also different because it was a saucy preparation.
My second lesson of the night was a little more structured. It was an illustration of how Spencer used to serve jerk chicken on side of the road in Jamaica. He brought out the deliciously tender jerk chicken-no sauce on this one. He, then, put a little bit of hot sauce and ketchup on top of the chicken and served it with a piece of hard dough bread. The combination was fantastic. The saucy preparation was good but the roadside version was great. Where can I get a hold of that hard dough bread? Yum.
The oxtails were succulent and extremely flavorful. In some preparations of oxtail, it is drowned in gravy, with the meat falling off the bone. There is nothing wrong with that style, but this preparation really allowed you to enjoy the taste of the meat. The oxtail was in tact, browned and seasoned to perfection. The other part of the meal that I absolutely loved was the vegetable medley. Don't sleep on it. It was so buttery and tasty-an unexpected treat.
Sunset Jamaica is the dream that has come to fruition for Oneil Spencer. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and he is looking to stay around for a while. He expresses a real desire to stay in Towson and be a vital part of the Towson community.
Find out more about Sunset Jamaica on their Sunset Jamaica Caribbean Cuisine Facebook Page. You can contact them to place an order at 443-564-4384.