Caribbean House

by Erin Thursby
New to Riverside is Caribbean House. True to the name, they serve island soul food. They’re on Park across from European Street, near King, in the location where Bungalow on Park used to be. With their reasonable prices and large portions, I can see Caribbean House becoming a permanent fixture in Riverside. They certainly fill a culinary niche and I was glad to see that it wasn’t yet another sushi joint.
Even their small portions (which are about $7 and under) are sizable. I wasn’t able to finish a small curry chicken for lunch and got to take home leftovers. A large can comfortably feed two people well, three if they have a lighter appetite. Value-wise, this soul food is fabulous.
One thing that can be hard to find is good oxtail. The dramatic, rich and meaty flavor makes the hunt worthwhile. Oxtail needs a long, slow cook (whether braised or stewed) to get the meat to its full, tender and flavorful perfection. It’s well-marbled with fat and it’s a tough cut of meat, but it can be heaven when cooked correctly. The oxtail I sampled at Caribbean House was excellent.
The bright yellow Jamaican patties need no side and they are by far my favorite thing on the menu. It’s stewed meat inside a yellow flaky crust. At $2, it’s a well-priced bit of lovely.
If you’re going to get the flavorful curried chicken here, go ahead and spring for the boneless. Although there is something to be said for the flavor of meat cooked on the bone, it’s still worth the extra dollar not to have to pick through them. I got festival on the side when I ate this dish and it perfectly offset the heat of the curry. Festival, if you haven’t had it, is a knot of sweetbread.
Their jerk chicken has a superb smokey quality, so if oxtail scares you off, and the curried chicken is too spicy for you, it’s an outstanding choice. The starchy and sweet plantains seem to go well with all the meats on their menu, but I like it best as a side for their jerk chicken.
Here’s the low-down on the rest of the sides I tried. First, don’t bother getting the fries. Yes, they’re good, but you can get fries anywhere! Instead, go for something more exotic, like the plantains or the festival. The baked mac and cheese, which seems like a pedestrian choice, actually isn’t. It’s got a little Caribbean seasoning thrown in, which gives it an extra something. I found it a bit too salty for my taste, though it’s otherwise interesting. But the white rice side has a great balance: it has enough of its own flavor to stand alone, but it doesn’t overpower the dishes it’s served with.
While lunch and early dinner are the draw, they also serve breakfast. Instead of serving purely Caribbean fare, they also have traditional American options like pancakes and eggs. Thus far the only soda available is in a 7 UP soda machine on the porch. They do serve fruit juice. They’re still working on the atmosphere at this brand new place, but the rooms are colorful and the food is hearty.