Restaurant News & Reviews

New Caribbean restaurant spices up the landscape by serving the real deal

Rasta pasta accompanies coconut shrimp, fried plantain and the vegetable of the day.
Rasta pasta accompanies coconut shrimp, fried plantain and the vegetable of the day. Herald-Leader

If ever there was a more unlikely place than an industrial park to plunk down a restaurant inspired by Jamaica, I can't imagine where it would be. Yet there on Fortune Drive is Mi'irie Mon — translation: "I feel good, man" — which brings an authentic taste of the West Indies, coupled with a bit of soul food and a touch of Caribbean neighbor Cuba for good measure, to Lexington.

With reggae music over the speakers, wall art inspired by the islands, coconut shells full of ginger mints on the tables and a separate area that seems destined to be a lively bar, the owners have done a good job of transforming two airy office spaces into an environment suggesting Jamaica. The warm and unhurried service, however, is totally convincing without any makeovers. The interior might seem somewhat unfinished, but that doesn't affect in the least the dining experience, which is hot and sweet, redolent of underused spices like cloves, and really delicious.

No matter what entree you order, you will begin with Johnny cakes, piping-hot doughy fried rolls drizzled with syrup. They're more filling than bread, so eat them in tiny bites while you wait for the real food. If I were going to have a pastry to start, however, I would order the Jamaica patty, aka Jamaica pasty, a flaky turnover the color of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish stuffed with a respectably spicy curried beef.

Curries are a Jamaican staple, slightly sweeter than familiar Indian ones, using more of the spices commonly found in a pumpkin pie, such as nutmeg and allspice. The curry goat is terrific, not at all fatty or gamy, but watch for small bones. They add flavor but demand mindfulness. Equally wonderful and requiring less attention is the boneless chicken curry, a stew that includes potatoes, carrots and onions.

Mi'irie Mon, to my knowledge, serves Lexington's only oxtail curry.

A simpler meal might be the tilapia fillet, lightly sautéed and topped with caramelized onions and a pickled pepper. The savory red rice with diced carrots and peas is the perfect accompaniment. Or get the coconut shrimp when they have it — it really is the best in town — with a side of coconut rice. Really, is there such a thing as too much coconut?

And you must get a jerked dish as well, such as a quarter chicken, tangy and hot, with more of those pie spices and aromatics like garlic and onions.

All entrees are served with one side of your choice, the vegetable of the day — I really enjoyed the simplicity of the lightly blanched cabbage — and a slice of tropically sweet fried plantain.

The best of these are the mac 'n' cheese — not necessarily Caribbean, but done perfectly — and the warm and sunny beans and rice that smell like cloves. The "rasta pasta" — stir-fried whole-wheat spaghetti with onions and squash — was fairly ordinary by contrast.

Rum cake has been the house dessert on every visit, and I love it. It's moist, almost saturated, yet not soggy, like a firm, dark gingerbread pudding, rich with rum.

From the staff's rapport with customers, it's evident that Mi'irie Mon has an established following, consisting of eager experimental eaters from the States and some of Lexington's relocated Caribbean residents. A friend from Trinidad describes the food as the real deal.

Its location remains an amusing conundrum, but that's what keeps things interesting. Any restaurant that brings the flavors of Jamaica to Lexington doesn't need to explain its address to me.

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