One of my favorite places to eat in Pasadena was a Jamaican restaurant called Kingston Cafe. A few years ago, it shut its door and I was definitely sad to see it go, but now it’s back and I was definitely ready to re-visit an old haunt with a couple of friends in tow. When making the trip to Kingston Cafe, there are a couple of things you should know. First, the building Kingston Cafe is in looks like a small house. The restaurant shares the space with a medical group and in fact, the space Kingston Cafe occupies used to be medical offices as well. As for parking, although the attached parking lot is a paid lot, it’s free if you’re having dinner. Just be sure to mention to your serving person that you’re parked at that lot. I think it’s $3 parking at lunch time.
When you enter the restaurant, you’ll see about 3 smaller dining rooms to your left. There’s a larger dining room towards the back where there’s a live band playing Caribbean music. I think that band only plays during the weekend, so if you want a more intimate dining setting, you should ask to be seated in one of the smaller dining rooms. As soon as my friends and I sat down, the ginger beer was the first thing we ordered. I have to say that my palate party really started with this beer. There was quite a kick to it.
We decided to order an appetizer and opted for the Jamaican chicken patty. It arrived topped with a thick curry sauce. The chicken patty had more of a soft bread texture as opposed to a flaky pastry consistency and the filling was ground chicken. I took a little forkful of the chicken on its own and it had heat. When you eat the chicken patty with the sauce, there was a flame or two, but when you drink the Ginger beer immediately afterwards, be prepared for a little bonfire.
As for the entrees, they come with a salad and plantains, which were served in courses. First, our salad arrived in a martini glass. The salad consisted of mixed greens and a mango salsa with a house vinaigrette that tasted a bit citrusy. It was a pretty presentation, but not the easiest to eat out of the martini glass.
Next, we were served a plate of plantains and johnny cakes with crushed pineapple and a walnut dusted with brown sugar. For those of you who don’t know, johnny cakes are basically a cake or biscuit made out of corn meal. It was an interesting plate of textures and flavors. The plantains were a bit sweet, but the tartness of the pineapple tempered that sweetness. I liked that the johnny cakes had a firm texture to go along with the softness of the plantains. Then you also had the sweet nutty crunch of the walnut added to the mix.
Soon our entrees arrived. For my meal, I ordered the Escovitched Fish which is fish simmered in fresh herbs, spices, scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar topped with onions and tomatoes. Served with rice and beans, you had a choice of red snapper or salmon. I decided on the snapper. The fish was moist and delicate and I loved the vinegary heat coming from each bite. For more of a tropical flavor and to also cut the heat, add some of the mango salsa which came in a tasting spoon on your plate.
I also got to sample the Jerked Chicken. My friend asked for it to be medium, but medium was still pretty hot. I can’t even imagine how spicy would spicy be. The chicken was moist, tender and marinated with a house made jerk sauce.
The other entree to hit our table was the Curried Goat which was stewed with onion and fresh thyme and came on a mound of rice and beans. From the small bite of it that I had, the goat had a slight chew to it and it was definitely well seasoned with some kick to it. As my friend started eating into it more, she mentioned that it was a bit salty, but she still enjoyed it nonetheless.
We ended our meal with Kingston Cafe’s housemade Rum Cake, which was dense and moist. After a couple of bites, I felt like I was tasting raisins, but when I asked our server about it, he said that there weren’t any raisins in the recipe. My friend, who’s from Trinidad, said that the rum cake we were enjoying was actually a Jamaican Black Cake. The ingredients of the black cake could include any combination of raisins, currants, dates and prunes that are soaked in a dark rum. In the end, the cake actually served as a great palate cleanser and soaked up all the lingering sparks left on our tastebuds from our meal.
Overall, I really enjoyed dining at Kingston Cafe. After a brief conversation with a couple of our servers and the manager, I found out that Kingston Cafe still has the original owners from its first incarnation. The main difference is that the family who owns this business decided to be more hands-on than in the past. They’ve only been open for a month and initially started with just 3 entrees and have just recently increased the number of their entrees to 7. The menu will be seeing expansion in the upcoming months as their new chef works on new dishes and recipes. They are currently open for lunch and I for one, really want to check out their Jerk Burger.
Welcome back, Kingston Cafe! I’m so happy to see you back in the Pasadena Dining Scene.