While little known in Seattle, Jamaican patties are a New York staple.
When I lived there, I would frequently walk down 125th Street to a place next to the Apollo Theater called — I kid you not — the Peacemaker Fingerlicking Bakery. From a heated glass case, the Peacemaker sold endless varieties of Jamaican patties — spicy meat or vegetables in a rich pastry crust. In addition to being liberally spiced with hot pepper, the patties were sold at whatever temperature is above "piping hot." It was hard to tell whether it was the heat or the pepper burning the roof of your mouth, but it didn't matter because the patties were so good.
So when I heard that a new restaurant in Belltown was serving homemade Jamaican patties, I started sharpening up my finger-licking skills and headed down to Coco Tree Cafe.
Coco Tree is a long, skinny space on a well-traveled block of Second Avenue. The walls are green, the tablecloths tie-dyed and the music ... well, I didn't actually hear any Bob Marley, but I heard several Marley covers. The Jamaican patties aren't quite as good as the Peacemaker's, but they're finger-licking enough.
Service is attentive and kind. This is basically home cooking, and I got the sense that my server really cared whether I liked the food for reasons beyond the bottom line. At the next table, I heard her asking a customer whether she thought the menu should be changed to read "rice and beans" instead of "rice and peas" (what we call beans, Jamaica calls peas) since some diners were expecting green peas rather than the kidney beans they got.
The rice and peas are served (with other sides) alongside chicken, goat or tilapia. Most entrees are available in small (a single serving) or large (enough to share) portions. On Fridays, there's an oxtail-stew special ($8/$12) that sounds delicious.
The waiter didn't ask me for any recommendations, but that never stopped me before. I'd like to see flakier pastry on the patties, a beef-patty option and a less hesitant hand with the hot pepper throughout the menu. The bottled ginger beer (Old Jamaican brand) is OK, but how about making your own?
Otherwise, Coco Tree puts me in a downright peaceful frame of mind.
Curry chicken: "We didn't get any goat delivered this morning," our server apologized, so I settled for the curry chicken. It was no compromise. The chicken, stewed on the bone with onions and a variety of spices, is served with braised cabbage and carrots, rice and peas, and a sweet slice of caramelized plantain. It's the kind of plate where you want to get a little of this mixed with a little of that and make sure everything gets sauce.
Jerk chicken: The ingredient that makes jerk chicken possible is allspice, which is not a spice blend but the dried berry of a tree native to the West Indies, so named because, well, someone thought it tasted like a spice blend. Coco Tree's jerk is appropriately allspicy (sorry) and served with the same sides as the curry chicken.
Vegetable patty: Spiced spinach and potato fill this baked pastry crescent. The filling is tasty, but the pastry is a bit doughy.
Chicken patty: This patty, filled with potatoes, curry powder and diced chicken, has a nice hit of hot pepper that sneaks up on you.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Curry chicken $6.50
Jerk chicken $6.50
Vegetable patty $3.00
Chicken patty $3.00
Ginger beer (2) $6.00
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org