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THE WEEKLY DISH

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page F07

THE JERK IS BACK!: Two years ago, a fire destroyed Sweet Mango Cafe (3701 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-726-2646). But hard work and money borrowed from family and friends helped its owner, Reginald James, rebuild his Jamaican retreat at the same location.

Open since July -- and conveniently parked across from the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro Station -- the reborn Sweet Mango Cafe unfolds on multiple levels and offers that rare restaurant asset: a rooftop patio. The ground floor is open and airy, with alternating mint-green and butter-yellow walls and a scattering of tables for those who opt to eat their food -- oxtail, red snapper, cocoa bread -- on the premises. (Sweet Mango does a brisk carry-out business.)

The signature dish remains jerk chicken, tingling with spices and utterly juicy. But I'm also a fan of the rustic curry goat, which is predictably bony but also tender and zippy. Like all the entrees, they are both rounded out with rice and peas and a warm cabbage salad. Only the savory beef- and chicken-filled patties are made elsewhere; the pocket-size snacks come from the respected Royal Caribbean Bakery in New York.

Stoking the charcoal fire in the open kitchen behind the counter is James's brother, George "Lenky" Beckford. What's the trick to his no-punches-pulled chicken? I asked, angling for its recipe. "You don't reveal the secret to your special!" James politely but firmly declined to share.

Lunch entrees $6.50-$7, dinner entrees $9-$12.


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