When the wind blows to the west, the aroma of smoky jerk chicken rolls right to the entrance of the recently opened Green Line's Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro station. After years of construction the dust has settled. The wide avenues of Georgia and New Hampshire have been resurfaced. It's a great time to discover--or rediscover--the casual, festive West Indian carryout cafes and shops that line this busy urban corridor.
The perfect place to start such a Caribbean culinary tour is Sweet Mango Cafe, located directly across from the station. That's the source of that fragrant smoke. Every day owner George Beckford "jerks" (grills), on average, 160 pounds of chicken coated with a blend of seven spices. Curried chicken and stewed chicken are also on the menu. Still, most customers order the moist jerk chicken (large, $7.70, comes with rice, beans and vegetable). The spice quotient is in the medium range.
"That's the way my customers like it," says Beckford. We did too. "I've survived, with all the construction going on, because my chicken is the best in the whole area."
Most customers take the jerk and go. But there are four tables in an adjoining dining room. What's to drink? There are bottled tropical fruit juices as well as Red Stripe beer made in Jamaica. The thick, sweet Irish Moss Juice ($4 per bottle) is an acquired taste, if there ever was one. (Sweet Mango Cafe, 3701 New Hampshire Ave. NW; call 202-291-5623.)
The "coco" bread and stuffed "patties" sold at Mango are made a few blocks south at Brown's Caribbean Bakery. Owners Selvyn and Eulah Wright supply many area delis and carryouts with soft, fluffy coco bread (60 cents each). This sweet bun, when sliced, forms a pocket. In goes a patty, a satisfying turnover filled with beef, chicken or vegetables (mild or spicy, $1.30 each). Also popular at Brown's is the "spice bun," a loaf of bread flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon and anise seed ($2.50 each) as well as "bulla cake" made with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon ($2.50 each). (Brown's Caribbean Bakery, 3301 Georgia Ave. NW; call 202-882-1626.)
Regular customers at C&R Deli, a small, Jamaican carryout located next door to Brown's, know that in the rear of the shop there is a stairway to the second floor. That's where fans of Conrad and Rosena Campbell, who both cook, gather on weekend mornings for a typical Jamaican breakfast ($7.70). Generous portions of ackee (a mild, tropical fruit), codfish and calaloo (a green leafy vegetable) are piled on a plate along with boiled green bananas and yellow yams, a choice of fried or boiled dumplings and fried plantains. For lunch or dinner try the melt-in- the-mouth oxtail stew or curried goat ($6.60 at lunch) served with rice and red beans. Once a week, usually on Fridays, Rosena makes sweet potato pone, a smooth pudding flavored with vanilla and nutmeg ($1.50 per slice). "But you must be quick," she says. "As soon as it comes out of the oven it's gone." (C&R Deli, 3303 Georgia Ave. NW; call 202-722-4814.)
Across the street, at Rita's West-Indian Carry-Out, the drill is: take a number. Folks line up for Rita and Mike Houghton's Trinidadian- style buffet. What's worth waiting for? Menu favorites are vegetarian and meat roti--a stuffed and folded griddle-baked bread (chicken, $3.85) as well as stewed beef and jerk and curried chicken. Up a flight of six stairs there is a self-service dining room with a dozen tables covered with a bold red-and-white-check cloth. (Rita's West-Indian Carry-Out, 3322 Georgia Ave. NW; call 202-722-1868.)
Two blocks north of this new Metro station look for Goins Carry-Out & Restaurant, a traditional, all-American, neighborhood cafe with charm to spare. Owner Lucille Goins has, for 39 years, served Southern breakfast favorites, such as eggs with scrapple and grits ($4.50), to customers at the nine-stool counter. The jukebox plays "Function at the Junction" by Shorty Long for 25 cents. In addition to the popular baked chicken ($6.50), the dinner menu includes pig's feet ($6.50) and chitterlings ($8.50). "You can't get that everywhere," says day-manager Linda Pittman. All entrees come with a choice of three vegetables. (Goins Carry-Out and Restaurant, 3936 Georgia Ave. NW; call 202-723-8722.)
CAPTION: Eulah, left, and Selvyn Wright, of Brown's Caribbean Bakery, produce an array of Caribbean breads.