June 14, 2024


The Food community

Restaurant review: Jamaican gem a surprise at West Towne Mall | Dining reviews

9 min read

The food court at West Towne Mall might not be the optimal location for Taste of Jamaica, because lots of shoppers are looking for a meal costing half as much.

But owner Sanya Anderson, who opened the business Oct. 20, said her mall presence is a stepping stone to one day establishing a restaurant. She’s doing it mainly for the exposure, she said.

Taste of Jamaica counter

Meals at Taste of Jamaica range from $13 to $17 for enormous portions that can easily be shared by two people. 

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

While meals range from $13 to $16, they’re enormous portions in huge, heavy boxes that can be shared by two people.

Both the jerk chicken ($15) and curry chicken ($13) came with a large serving of grated, steamed cabbage and carrots with Jamaican spices that were positively delicious.

“It’s my secret concoction that I make,” Anderson said. “I put a little bit in there each time. So that gives it a little flavor for sure. Everybody seems to love it.”

Taste of Jamaica menu board

Meals at Taste of Jamaica come with one meat, one side and mix of vegetables.

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

Each entrée came with a choice of side. Those included a gigantic portion of traditional Jamaican rice and peas, always made with kidney beans, not peas, that Anderson seasons with thyme, scallions, sweet peppers, butter and coconut milk.

Or choose the super cheesy mac and cheese with big elbow noodles baked until its exterior was beautifully browned. “I like that little crunch on top,” Anderson said.

Ripe plantains are fried to order, or customers can get a half ear of previously frozen corn bathed in butter sauce.

The mac and cheese and plantains are both $2.50 a la carte. French fries were another option, as was cornbread, which was unavailable when I was there.

Oxtail, jerk ribs and stew pork were also unavailable on my Thursday lunchtime visit. Anderson did have curry goat.

She said oxtail, a literal cow’s tail, is hard to find and expensive right now, and that she must’ve run out of the ribs the day I was there.

Jerk chicken at Taste of Jamaica

Jerk chicken with rice and peas, vegetables, and an extra side of mac and cheese.

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

The jerk chicken had two meaty, moist chicken thighs, which the young man who took my order warned me were spicy. They weren’t overly spicy but had a nice amount of heat. The meal came with a half-full little container of jerk sauce, which improved the rice.

Later, when I talked to Anderson, she said her jerk chicken “is really, really spicy. I mean, I’m not a fan of spicy hot, I prefer spicy flavorful, but the jerk chicken, it is spicy hot.”

Customers, when they eat it, “their eyes be watering, noses be running, but they’re like, ‘It is so good,’” she said, adding that she’s still trying to perfect it.

It was not exceedingly hot and close to perfect in my estimation.

Curry chicken at Taste of Jamaica

Curry chicken, vegetables and corn.

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

The curry chicken was cut into chunks, all with bones, which might not appeal to a wide audience. Potatoes were in the mix, and the curry was thin and mild.

I ordered a bottle of Jamaican Tropical Rhythms guava carrot juice ($4) and a tall can of soursop juice ($4.50) with great results.

Beverages at Taste of Jamaica

Tropical Rhythms guava carrot juice and soursop juice. 

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

The shop’s chalkboard menu listed three “treats”: potato pudding, peanut drops and coconut cake. I would have tried any of them, but none were available.

Anderson said she bakes on Sundays, and often by Wednesday the desserts are gone. She’s looking for someone to help in the kitchen, and would like to hire someone Jamaican. “I’m trying to keep it as authentic as possible,” she said.

She’s also busy running her other business, Luxury Dolls Body Bar, which she opened in June at West Towne. There, she offers eyelash extensions and teeth whitening, among other services.

Anderson came to Madison in 2018 after living in Pittsburgh for three months and working as a house cleaner. A family friend in Madison suggested she might like it here, so she moved and got a job at Exact Sciences, where she worked for about two years, starting in customer service.

“I resigned and I cashed out all my stocks that I got at Exact, and I just used it toward opening my businesses,” she said.

Anderson, who’s from Montego Bay, said she opened her own place because there aren’t many choices for her native food in Madison.

Monona has David’s Jamaican, which is excellent, but the loss of Jamerica on Williamson Street is still felt by many. Owner Martin Deacon retired in 2019 after 24 years.

Taste of Jamaica is a worthy successor.

Taste of Jamaica mall

Sanya Anderson opened Taste of Jamaica in October at West Towne Mall.

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

Read restaurant news at go.madison.com/restaurantnews.

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