- Griffin Swartzell
- Foam offers no frills, but the food's flavor shines.
The Mexicans have jamaica. The Jamaicans have sorrel. Both are beautiful homages to hibiscus flowers, which go by many other names around West Africa, their native land.
For her sorrel at Reggae Pot Xpress, owner/chef Tamara Nisbeth brews hibiscus tea with cinnamon, nutmeg and pimento berries (allspice, or Jamaica pepper). With its fragrant nature, it's easy to understand how Jamaicans typically drink sorrel at Christmastime, but also to see why people would wish to sip it year-round. It's got herbal and spice depth infused into a tart backbone, balanced by a touch of sweetness, and it refreshes alongside the curries and jerk seasonings inherent to the island's culinary culture.
Sorrel's also amazing turned into a rum punch of your strength preference, Nisbeth tells us. She's conveniently located next to a liquor store, where we purchase a couple 50ml Appleton Estate Reserve Jamaica Rum bottles to haul home with a 16-ounce cup of her tea. One bottle leaves more of the spices bright, whereas the addition of the second packs much more of a boozy front, though still drinks pleasantly.
Another RPX drink actually does incorporate a negligible amount of Guinness beer, called Guinness (or Dragon) Stout Punch when served full-strength (and often puréed with peanuts or oats and a raw egg) back home. But it's simply called "stout" here, where it's blended with cream, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar and elevated to dessert status. Both drinks shouldn't be missed, nor should a slice of Nisbeth's dense, starchy, spice-laced sweet potato pie, from a long list of rotating pies, cakes and puddings she makes.
The Montego Bay native immigrated in 2008 after earning a culinary degree on-island, then working in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since moving to the Springs, she's cooked at Penrose-St. Francis hospital and in The Broadmoor's former Charles Court kitchen, before opening RPX 14 months ago. Nisbeth says she can cook anything, and has introduced fusion plates as specials in the past, but she says the Jamaican community here largely demands traditional versions of classic Jamaican plates.
Thus we dine to delight on a fantastic ackee and saltfish (the lychee-like fruit, with cod) with callaloo (bitter, dark greens), holding big bell pepper essence plus side Johnnycakes, like dense beignets mated with hushpuppies. We enjoy serviceable chicken and goat curries, made with imported Grace Jamaican Curry Powder, the latter containing long bones that still house great, gooey bits of marrow. Inky, roast-textured jerk pork bears little heat but flavorful charred edges thanks in part to browning sauce (burnt sugar). Side rice acts only as a sauce-sopping agent, while boiled cabbage and plantains put on respective shows of buttery fibrousness and sappy sweetness.
Bright yellow "reggae patties" show a fork-marked fold and sealing along their half-moon-shaped purse edges, acting as empanadas. The jerk chicken in ours could be more moist and plentiful, as the dough both sucks moisture and dominates the taste; dipping it in the curry or jerk sauce helps.
It also helps to call ahead for certain orders that require extra cooking time, such as beef kidneys at breakfast time, which we didn't get to try. Or to verify the tiny two-table eatery's open. (I find it closed one morning at 9 — Nisbeth, who runs it solo mostly, later tells me it was to get her daughter's glasses before she heads to college to study chemical engineering.) RPX may be a laid-back affair, but a sincerity pervades, along with some strong flavors.