Forget Port of Spain, Kingston, or Negril. When it comes to Caribbean food, South Florida has it all. The tricounty area — from Miami-Dade north to Palm Beach County — is home to dozens of Caribbean-style restaurants. Of course, that includes Jamaican fare, a cuisine that's full of flavor and rife with lots of unique dishes, from exotic fruits (ackee) and seafood (snapper and conch) to meat (pork, chicken, and even goat).
To find the best in South Florida, we searched high and low and stumbled upon a little order-only gem in West Palm Beach called Curly's Caribbean Flava, owned by Ryan
Today, Curly's 9-year-old restaurant, located north of Congress Avenue off Forest Hill Boulevard, can be difficult to spot the first time you go. It sits in a relatively nondescript shopping plaza — sans sign — situated between Duds
"This is where the celebrities eat. You got to call ahead for the VIP treatment, that first-class service," Curly will tell you with the slow drawl of a heavy Jamaican accent.
By "VIP," he means "no waiting." And by "celebrities," he means you. Most days, the self-taught chef — with his hair slicked back into tight cornrows and sporting a "Got Jerk" T-shirt — serves as many high-fives as he does orders of jerk chicken and curry goat. He is as much a part of Curly's as the jerk chicken and ackee, curry goat, and saltfish. Go on YouTube and you'll find dozens of videos featuring Floss, his alter ego, including the "Love So Much" video that was partially shot at his West Palm Beach eatery (pictured below).
A take-out-only sort of place, ordering here is a simple process: Fork over no more than $5.99 for the lunch special and Curly himself will serve you a few freestyle raps or bark a few shoutouts before handing over a container of made-to-order eats prepared by his kitchen staff of four. On a recent afternoon, that meant a steaming order of curry shrimp, the chicken soup of the day, an order of jerk chicken, a few fried dumplings, and a slice of rum cake.
Start with the curry anything — chicken, goat, shrimp — for an authentic meal. A yellow-tinged curry sauce has a mild heat and shrimp that are so plump, the skin bursts open in your mouth with an audible pop. Pair it with a fried dumpling, a sweetened deep-fried fritter that's Curly's equivalent of "Do you want fries with that?" — a gummy, doughy ball that does equally well sopping up the last of the curry sauce, stew peas, or soup.
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But Curly says it's his jerk that stands as the restaurant's most requested dish, thick slices of bone-in meat piled atop a steaming heap of rice and peas alongside piles of tender potato, carrot, and a crunchy cabbage salad. The chicken is chopped whole, drenched in a spicy-sweet sauce made from fiery Scotch bonnet peppers and warm spices. The key to Curly's recipe lies in his preparation, a process he won't divulge save for this: He lets his chicken marinate in the whole pimento (allspice), ginger, thyme, and cinnamon-spiked rub overnight, lending each tender bite a fragrant, complex hit of flavor. Scallions and citrus give it sharpness and tang. Black pepper and Scotch bonnet chili add heat, and a touch of brown sugar gives it a lingering sweetness.
Is this where the celebrities eat? When Curly is serving, it's easy for anyone who walks in to feel that way, so we're going to say "yes."
Curly's Caribbean Cuisine is located at 1892 Abbey Road, West Palm Beach. Call 561-434-7077.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.