Island Pride

$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Bonnie Benwick reviewed the food at this restaurant's sister location for an October 2009 Good to Go column. That review follows:

What are the chances that one carryout spot featuring home-style Caribbean fare could take up where two had left off -- and become the most popular? That is what has happened at Island Pride in Rockville, owned by Jamaican native Joan Beckford.

The former auditor had run her original Island Pride market-takeout in Gaithersburg for seven years, making great batches of curried goat and oxtail stew and selling a wide selection of Jamaican canned and dry goods. "Word of mouth has kept me in business," she says. "Where I am -- at the back of a building -- is so hard to find, you wouldn't believe it." Beckford works from no formal recipes, having learned to cook growing up, as she says all Jamaicans do.

Two years ago, the opportunity arose to open a second Island Pride in Rockville, where Grand'ma Cooking, and, later, Jamaica Sunrise, had been. She asked her brother and his wife, Cleve and Andrea Cain, to run it. It has a small market section as well. Beckford says that "people keep telling me the food is so much better, but we just use home-cooking recipes and the Jamaican spices we sell."

The Cains get large pots going early in the morning, and the slowly coaxed flavors of the oxtail stew ($8.99), curried chicken ($6.50) and curried goat ($7.99) drive customers to fill the five-table restaurant in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. Regular-size entree portions are big enough to serve two and come with a vinegary cabbage salad, baked plantain and a Scotch-bonnet-powered side order of rice and peas cooked in coconut milk. (Large-size portion prices vary.)

The jerk chicken ($7 for two pieces and sides) is oven-roasted rather than grilled. But its skin has a coat of Walkers Wood jerk seasoning that stays put and permeates the very tender meat within. Ackee and codfish ($12) tastes "like home," one customer told me; I had never tried Jamaica's national fruit and can only say that the canned version -- the only kind allowed for U.S. import -- must not be as good as fresh, ripe ackee is.

Beef patties come either mild or spicy ($1.75), and big puffs of cocoa bread are available ($1.25 each); neither is made in-house, but the codfish fritters are. It's best to catch those freshly cooked ($1.25), before they turn slightly rubbery in a warming cabinet.

Scanning the selection of Jamaican goods is a fine way to spend the time it takes for your order to be filled. The wait can be considerable: 15 to 25 minutes, although no one seems to mind. I made a mental note to return if I come across recipes that call for dried spices I wasn't familiar with: cinnamon leaf, Irish moss and cerasse, to name a few.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick (Good to Go, Oct. 28, 2009)