As I enter the Kool-Aid-rainbow-colored beach shack of Jamaican Summers Eatery, the visually and culinarily transporting restaurant in Burleson — and just before rasta-capped co-owner Richard Williams utters a Caribbean-accented “welcome, mon” — my eyes take in the wall-hanging of Jamaica’s national crest with its slogan: “Out of many, one people — Jamaica.”
Now that’s an inclusive invitation to eat well.
Jamaican Summers epitomizes a slice of the American dream come true for its husband-and-wife team of Williams and the restaurant’s chef, Lorraine DaCosta. Both of them hail from neighboring parishes in Jamaica and met while working in healthcare in New Jersey. One taste of DaCosta’s escovitch fish, a current star of the Jamaican Summers menu, and Williams was in love.
Several years and three children later, the couple decided to give North Texas a try. In 2014, they chose the easy rhythms of Burleson over the traffic-clogged streets of Dallas. It didn’t take them long to realize that they could fill the yawning lack of authentic Jamaican restaurants by converting a run-down coffee shop into their current space.
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And convert the couple, especially art-school-trained DaCosta, did. Over six weeks late last year, they painted the front porch and one interior wall a prism of popping colors, from sea foam to marigold yellow, and then applied those same exuberant hues to dozens of tree stumps the couple salvaged from all over town, and to randomly placed signs marked with such known Jamaican locales as Negril and Ocho Rios.
Great Jackson Pollock-esque streaks of tangerine and palm-frond-green, and other Crayola-crayon colors, enliven the weather-beaten, wrought-iron furniture dotting the patio.
As for Jamaican Summers’ rainbow-kissed interior, Williams and DaCosta raided their private stash of Bob Marley pictures, along with more recent shots of Jamaica’s most celebrated sports hero, Usain Bolt, and affixed them above the restaurant’s nine tables.
And in case I might have missed Jamaican Summers chief aim, namely to teleport me away from the chill of an ashen February day, the restaurant has cannily piped in the hypnotic white noise of crashing surf and the cawing of seagulls.
On this frosty February day, a revivifying bowl of chicken soup ($5.50) is in order. Its broth alone packs the same germ-banishing effects as its better-known Jewish counterpart. Served steaming hot, this bowl features brawny chunks of potato, gnocchi-like dumplings known as “spinners,” flecks of pumpkin and scallions. It’s fired up by a Jamaican “all-spice” seasoning whose main components DaCosta won’t divulge, save for pimento seeds and Scotch bonnet peppers.
Another starter plucked directly from a Kingston street food cart is a beef patty ($4.25): A Caribbean take on a Mexican empanada whose hand-made crusty pouch is stuffed with just the right amount of ground beef filling, all shot through with Jamaican spices.
The curried goat ($11.95 small/$15.95 large) announces the meal’s central theme: That all meat will be cooked at a purposefully languid pace, to reach a zenith of “fall off the bone” tender. The sampled goat and oxtail ($14.95/$17.95), in addition to the curry chicken ($9.95/$12.95) and the brown stew chicken, $9.95/$12.95) are all recipients of Jamaican Summers’ trademark low-and-slow braising treatment.
To be sure, the curry spicing on the chicken could have been more fiery assertive but all is forgiven as the meat liberates itself from the bone with the meekest tug of my fork.
At least half of Jamaican Summers’ meat dishes are indulged in a dry marinade of that patented Jamaican spice mix, along with scallions, thyme and those heat-seeking Scotch bonnet peppers, before being placed in a 250-degree oven to simmer at a low hum for no less than three hours. This treatment erases any trace of gaminess and suffuses all the meats with the deep, rich flavor and suppleness of the best pulled pork.
The balance of spice and heat in the jerk chicken ($10.95/$13.95) is expertly calibrated. The outer skin of the two imposing drumstick-and-thigh portions carries the jerk spice’s thrum of heat. And thanks again to the methodically slow cooking process, this dish infuses the bird with succulence.
A classic side of deep-fried plantain disks stages the complex interplay between the inherent sweetness of a caramelized banana with some judiciously added salt.
Williams offers the youth of the restaurant as the reason why no desserts are yet available. But when he then espouses the house philosophy underlying why he and his wife opened Jamaican Summers, suddenly dessert isn’t missed, as his words become a verbal confection-coda to the meal.
“We want people to feel like they have taken a vacation in Jamaica,” Williams says. “A vacation through your taste buds and through your eyes.”