Wish you could get away to Jamaica? No problem, mon. You can go to Jamaica Jamaica instead.
Simone and Lloyd Washington, both natives of Jamaica, opened their small, colorful takeout cafe in Herndon last month. "We get a lot of people who've been to Jamaica and love the food," Simone Washington says, "but we get people tell us they've never been, and figure this is the closest they can get."
Tucked away in a business park off Spring Street, Jamaica Jamaica is like a small sliver of sunshine. There's always Jamaican music playing, and the air is filled with the spicy smells of Caribbean cooking. Friday nights, customers can play dominoes. "It's a whole cultural experience," Washington says.
The couple has been in the food business before. Lloyd ran a restaurant in Jamaica, and Simone had a catering company in New York. They moved here seven years ago. "We've always wanted to open a place because there's really no place to eat [Caribbean food] in Northern Virginia," she says. But with young children (now ages 5, 9 and 10), the timing wasn't quite right until this year.
For a small place, the menu is surprisingly extensive: Entrees ($6.49 to $6.95 for small, $8.49 to $8.95 for large) include jerk chicken, jerk wings, fish (cooked to order), curried chicken, stewed chicken, curried goat, oxtail and pepper shrimp. There's a long list of sides ($2 to $2.50), including plantains, festival (a sweet fried dough), peas and rice, vegetables, fritters and Coco bread. There's also a sampler platter for $9.95. The only items Washington doesn't cook herself are patties, which are like turnovers filled with spicy beef, chicken or vegetables. "Those are made for us," she says. The rest of the menu is made according to family recipes.
Although jerk chicken is popular, Washington is surprised at what's become the best-selling entree. "The oxtail sells out most nights. The jerk chicken is a close second, but nothing compares to the oxtail," she says.
It's understandable. Braised for hours in a spicy sauce, the richly flavored meat is tender enough to be eaten with a spoon.
Washington warns, however, that she cooks Jamaican-style -- meaning nothing is boneless. For the curries and stews, that means customers need to expect pieces of bone.
Four kinds of hot sauce are provided for customers to season their food: mild ("well, relatively mild" by Jamaican standards, she says), hot, hottest and what the couple calls "beware" -- a combination of ground fiery peppers and seasoning that Washington warns is "not for the faint of heart."
"I originally put out the three hot sauces," she says, "but I got a lot of requests for something hotter."
Jamaica Jamaica, 348 Victory Dr., Herndon, 703-481-8641. Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; go to www.jamaica2x.com.
-- Candy Sagon