Why you should care
Because authentic Jamaican food and hospitality beat a crowded resort any day.
In Jamaica, roadside eats are aplenty: jerk chicken, meat patties, sweet porridge, pepper shrimp. Casual restaurants serving good Jamaican food are also around, if harder to suss out in touristy areas. But authentic, multicourse local cooking? You’ll want to score an invite to someone’s home.
Unless, that is, you’re traveling in Portland Parish, on the island’s lush northeast coast. That’s where you’ll find Woody’s Low Bridge Place. To the naked eye, it looks like a burger shack … because it is a burger shack. And the burgers are fantastic (get the plantain “full house,” with a spicy homemade ginger beer). The real reason to come to Woody’s, though: the three-course dinners served by request only — for about $15 a head.
A blip on the jungly road east of ramshackle Port Antonio, the city that anchors this region, Woody’s whitewash shack is a lunch counter with a few stools, and a covered outdoor dining area off to the side, backed by a verdant garden where chickens roam. It’s instantly lovable, as are the owners, Charles “Woody” Cousins — a reggae musician known to serenade guests — and his effervescent wife, Cherry, the chef. It’s Cherry who is responsible for the hand-scrawled messages that plaster the shack’s interior: Smile! It makes you younger and better-looking.
If it doesn’t have bones, it’s not curry goat. And if you don’t suck the bones clean, you’re not enjoying curry goat.
The Portland region is gorgeous and serene — one of its claims to fame is the Blue Lagoon, where the 1980 movie was partially filmed — but it’s decidedly off the beaten path, a few hours’ drive from any airport. The rewards are rich for those who make the effort, and, after several days of waking at 5 a.m. with our overtired toddler, my husband and I were ready to reap them: We wanted a night out.
Given a choice of curry goat, fish in coconut sauce, pepper steak or jerk chicken, we had to agree on one main course for the two of us — we settled on the goat. The remaining details were quickly worked out with Woody: vegetable soup, pumpkin rice and festival (fried dumplings) as sides, sweet potato pudding. We handed over a deposit and were told to return the following night.
Yes, that’s right: The dinners at Woody’s are made to order. Local translation: Give the people a day to purchase and prepare the darn thing, OK? Everything’s bought fresh, so you have to book well in advance. “I don’t cook every day, because I only cook to order,” Cherry says, noting that she and Woody see lots of return visitors, year after year. She doesn’t much advertise the meals, and in fact stresses that Woody’s is a burger place first. But, she concedes, “not everyone wants burgers for dinner.”
The next night my husband and I found the open-air dining area transformed with candles and flowers. Alone in the garden, we might as well have been in Woody and Cherry’s home. The food was delicious; the curry goat tender and rich, the perfectly spiced sauce redolent with ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnet peppers. The meat was served bone-in, because, as Cherry informed us, “If it doesn’t have bones, it’s not curry goat. And if you don’t suck the bones clean, you’re not enjoying curry goat.”
The three courses were just about perfect. And the bones, I assure you, were sucked clean.