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A Taste of the Tropics 

It may be small, but there's big flavor at CeeDee Jamaican Kitchen

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Sometimes when I eat at a great place, I get a little bummed because the restaurant isn't in my neighborhood so I could pop in for lunch or dinner, or maybe grab something to go.

CeeDee Jamaican Kitchen is such a place. The food here is rich and flavorful, the atmosphere friendly and fun (music is reggae, of course). And there are plenty of smiles all around. I guess I'll have to drive a little farther for some good grub; big deal.

Located in the former Coffee Pot Café location on North Swan Road, CeeDee is a tiny room awash with all things Jamaican. The colors of the Jamaican flag are everywhere. Bob Marley pics are on the wall. Booths line one wall, and a counter with about eight seats is left over from the diner. A steam table and stoves take up the other half of the space, so you can see most of the food you'll be eating (and it all looks so good, choosing is tough). Made-to-order plates, mostly fish, are also available starting at around $12.50, but with all that good food right in front of us we opted out.

Both Cee and Dee were there on our first visit at lunch time, he (Dee) manning the steam table and she (Cee) serving the food. They talked of getting ready for the upcoming Tucson Meet Yourself and a carnival with another customer, who seemed to be a regular.

Under the glass-topped tables are pretty maps of the island. An international array of hot sauces sits on the table along with the small menu. Not everything is available every day, but a small white board hangs overhead with all the latest information. Dee erases items as they run out.

Portions come in two sizes, regular and large. We ordered regular and were amazed at the generous portion (the large must be insane!).

All meals come with a choice of two sides: fried plantains, steamed veggies and something called "festival," a deep-fried cornmeal cake. The veggies were tasty. The festival definitely drew the highest of praise ("I want another one"). On our second visit we got the last servings, so Cee had to make more. They looked so good in the fryer that we decided to take some home ($2.50 for five), fully intending to have them for breakfast the next morning, but they smelled so good we sampled them. Sizzling hot and a little sweet, they were all gone before we made it to the intersection of Country Club Road and Speedway Boulevard.

And those plantains? Cooked to a deep, golden brown, they were both savory and sweet, and practically melted in the mouth.

The plates also come with a healthy heap of rice. They are laced with red beans and topped with the pan juices from whatever plate you order.

The four entrées we enjoyed included stew beef ($10.25), oxtails ($12.50), curry chicken ($8.25) and jerk chicken ($8.25).

The stew beef was beef stew. Richly satisfying, the beef barely needed a knife. The oxtails were also stewlike, laced with white beans, potatoes and other veggies. As expected, the bones were a part of it, so that meant nibbling around them, but to balance that out a few of the bones were big enough to allow one to suck the wonderful marrow.

The jerk chicken was the best I've ever sampled. So many places offer this dish, but most of the time it isn't anything more than an over-seasoned, over-cooked bird. CeeDee's version (which I take to be authentic) is a leg and thigh that had been blackened to perfection, yet the meat was moist and luscious with just enough spicy heat.

The same could be said of the curry chicken. The curry was there but didn't overwhelm the falling-off-the-bone chicken.

As an aside we also had a Jamaican pattie ($3) during our dinner visit. This was a savory tart filled with chopped spicy beef. You could almost pick it up in your hand and eat it sans fork or knife (if you know what pasties are, this is comparable). We enjoyed it so much we took two more home for breakfast/lunch the next day.

We also tried three desserts: the sweet potato cake ($2), the rum cake ($3.50) and the peanut drop ($2.) The first came right out of the oven, so when it was placed in front of us the spicy aroma was heavenly; after tasting it, we weren't disappointed. Not quite cake, not quite pudding, it was different and yummy. We really liked the rum cake as well. Half expecting something like the ubiquitous cake everyone serves at Christmas, we were surprised by this moist slice of chocolatey cake. The rum popped, followed by a hint of ginger. The only thing that didn't work for us was the peanut drop. It looked like a glob of brittle without the crunch, but if you like ginger this might appeal to you.

Cee was alone at dinner and she was kept busy with a steady flow of customers. This was post-Tucson Meet Yourself, and she mentioned how busy they'd been. She was exhausted but still had a smile and friendly chatter for everyone who came in (and it was pretty busy!).

The only recommendation I'd make is a better system for the bill. Both times items were forgotten, but we cleared it up. Others may not be so honest, though.

This is a mom-and-pop place Jamaican style, nothing fancy, but with wonderful food and a great atmosphere. CeeDee Jamaican Kitchen is a welcome addition to our little burg.

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