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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Iri’e Offers Taste of the Islands Without Leaving SoMo

There are three ingredients that make a neighborhood haunt something special.   The most important part of the equation is great food, not “OK” food, but spectacular cuisine.  Friendly, warm service and value—after all, who wants to hassle with high prices when you are looking for local establishment? These are the three essential elements common to every great local concern.  If you can find a special place that features all three components in generous quantities, you have found a jewel. It is even better when it is in your own back yard.

 

Providing South Mountain Village with all of these essentials, and then some, is chef Eulet King.  Warm and gracious, she is the magician responsible for transforming chicken and fish into flavorful rich creations that mesmerize and delight.  Don’t let the laid-back charm or the homey décor deceive you.  King means business in the kitchen,   evidenced by the steady stream of customers that freely flow in and out of the tiny unassuming structure that houses the creations King carefully fabricates.

 

Like so many mom and pop business in the area that are genuinely worth your time and trouble, this one requires a detailed eye to locate.  The yellow, black and green colors of the Jamaican flag are clearly visible inside and outside, but even this arresting color combination is not enough to make the miniscule white building that houses this local treasure conspicuous.  When driving by on Broadway Road, make sure you look carefully. You could easily miss it, and that would be a shame.

 

With most of the effort put into cooking, the interior is neat, but don’t expect too much richness or a lot of space.  There are enough tables to seat about 20 comfortably.  Although small, there is an inexplicable charm to the place, which no doubt can be attributed to the personality of King and her competent staff.   As to be expected, Jamaican music flows and there are posters that remind you of the roots of the place. A few local newspapers and a few locally produced posters adorn the walls.  Adding decorative touches are the many kudos King has earned.

 

“The New Times put me in a place that people like to be,” says King when commenting on her growing reputation. Crowned by numerous local publications as the undisputed king–no pun intended–of Caribbean food, even a novice to the rich cultural world of Jamaica can easily appreciate her special touch.   It is that personal touch that comes through in the atmosphere, and more importantly the food.

 

Taking its title from a slang term, “Iri’e” meaning feeling good, the concept is that you will have that positive feeling when you leave.   Having come to the place with an open mind, I had to admit I walked away from the table feeling not just good, but spectacular.

 

Taking a suggestion from the chef, I opted to sample the Brown Fish Stew.  What arrived on my plate certainly shook my expectations. I had a complete red snapper on my plate covered in assorted spices and onions next to some of the best cabbage I have tasted in a long time.  No less special were the beans.  This was not a small plate, or some delicate fusion conception that didn’t know what it was or what it was trying to be.  The fish was absolutely perfect; it gently fell apart when consumed. 

 

King avoids one of the biggest mistakes made when employing hot spices–over doing it. She knows exactly what she is doing proves it in no uncertain terms. She doesn’t show off in her cooking, and that is a good thing because she doesn’t need to. Her dishes are so elegant they speak well for themselves without exaggeration.

 

Meeting the expectation of value, the brown fish stew, which is richer than its title suggests, was a mere $10.  Rounding out the seafood portion of the menu are Escovitch fish, Ackee and Salt Fish and Callallo and Salt Fish.   On the Meat side, or as it is appropriately titled, “The Meat Lovers,” are standards such as Jerk Chicken, Curry Chicken and Brown Stew Chicken.  Curry Goat and Oxtail complete the menu. With no item over $10, this has to be the value of the century. 

 

Side orders include fried or boiled dumplings, rice and peas, steamed vegetables and plantains. They are available for a modest $2 extra.  If you want to add a cola to your dish, let me suggest the Old Jamaican Ginger Beer, but only if you like ginger–it packs a punch, but then again so does the fish, but in the best possible way.

 

On any day you drop in, King is busy behind a white curtain that separates her from the audience waiting for the magic to happen.  Often too busy to greet, but warm and gracious when she can, entering her world is not unlike entering some mystical kingdom where the unexpected is the norm and the surprises that emerge are always good ones.

 

Having braved two years running, Iri’e, is clearly making an impact with the locals. There is never a real slow moment with steady streams of customers coming, going or just taking a break to savor the great flavors.  If you have been to the islands and want to find a piece of that paradise locally, King and company have provided the right touch.  Easily one of the best finds you may want to keep to yourself, but don’t. Iri’e is much too special not to share.

 

 

Iri’e

Jamaican Restaurant

2727 East Broadway Road

Phoenix, AZ 85040

602-323-9085

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