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Reggae Buffet

Neville Monteith warns local food lovers, "Look out, Houston, me cooking now!"

"Do you use Chief curry powder?" I ask Monteith after eating his curry chicken one afternoon.

"No, I like Chief, but it only comes in three-ounce packages here," Monteith says. "So now I use Blue Mountain curry, but I have to add some hot peppers to it because it's too mild."

I always add more hot sauce to Tropical Grill's curries. I suspect that all those years in hotel kitchens has convinced chef Monteith to tone down the seasonings. His food is authentically Jamaican -- except for the timid spices.

When Tropical Grill's jerk chicken is wood-smoked, it's 
sensational.
Troy Fields
When Tropical Grill's jerk chicken is wood-smoked, it's sensational.

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Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Patty: $1.25
Jerk chicken: $7.50
Curry goat: $8
Curry chicken: $7.50
Escovitch fish: $11

6521 Bissonnet, 713-771-3399.

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And then there's the question of the occasionally smokeless jerk. After my visit, I call the chef and ask him a few questions. As I suspected, the sensational wet jerk paste is made at the restaurant according to his own recipe. And as I also suspected, he doesn't always smoke the meat.

"I smoke it 90 percent of the time, but sometimes when I get busy, I just put it in the oven," he says. This is somewhat akin to pouring sauce on spare ribs, baking them in the oven and calling it barbecue. Without the smoke, it's not the same thing.

Monteith won't disclose what kind of wood he uses when he does smoke his jerk. In Boston Beach, they use wood from the allspice trees that grow wild on that part of the coast. The wood produces what may be the most fragrant smoke on the planet. I ask if he's importing allspice wood. "No, but there are alternatives," he says cryptically. I'm still trying to figure out what that means.

Tropical Grill is an enjoyable hangout and an inexpensive place to sample authentic Jamaican cuisine. If you aren't familiar with Caribbean cookery, don't worry about what to order, just put yourself in the hands of chef Monteith. And if you already love Jamaican food, stop by on the weekend for the "bones and all" buffet and a cold Ting.

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