Housed in a strip mall on West Bellfort near Gessner, Cool Runnings is named after the 1993 film that's loosely based on the story of the first Jamaican Olympic bobsled team. The clever little restaurant is sandwiched among scores of Jamaican eateries and reggae clubs, prompting us to imagine how vastly different the place must look at night, rather than by the light of Sunday morning. Get up, stand up, and place your order at the grill just inside the storefront; then grab a table in the club area next door, a small cooler of a room covered with brightly colored Jamaican flags and posters of the country's own prodigal rastaman: Bob Marley.
Of course we had to try the ubiquitous jerk chicken. Jerk is a seasoning blend of aromatics -- like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, thyme, onions, and chilies -- that's generally used as a dry rub. Most often used on chicken, jerk seasoning locks moisture inside the meat, while giving it that hoo-haa kick that's best quenched with Red Stripe. The version at Cool Runnings is divine, grittier, spicier, and more authentic that any we've had around town. On the side comes a pile of slick-slippery and shockingly delicious cabbage, plus a mound of fresh-fried plantains. Wow. The plantains? They're so outrageously tasty, we'd like to make a whole meal of 'em.
Next we tried the curry. Jamaican curry is distinct -- more bitter than its Indian cousin. While it's traditionally served with goat, we tried it with shrimp. The resulting dish was overly creamy, with tremendously bitter overtones. And the mealy roti (a super thin, tortilla-like bread) served alongside didn't help. Next time we'll try the brown stew chicken and braised oxtail, both of which looked fabulous sitting at the lively table next to us.
Like the film of the same name, Cool Runnings is low budget, yet oddly heartwarming. Is it going to be a Friday-night staple? Probably not, but it's good for a go once in a while.