I recently moved out of my historic downtown second-story apartment. It had wooden floors, lofty ceilings, a claw foot tub, an O’Keefe & Merritt stove and a view off the back patio of the (very few) tall buildings downtown Tucson has to offer. Visitors often said, “I don’t even feel like I’m in Tucson!”
And that’s exactly how I felt when I first walked into CeeDee’s Jamaican Kitchen – like I’d been whisked away to, well, a diner in New York City rather than what I imagine Jamaica would feel like, but I felt whisked away nonetheless. The restaurant is set up as a long galley with diner style counter bar seating immediately on the right, and booth seating the length of the restaurant on the left. Reggae music plays in the background while colorful Jamaican colors come at you at all angles. And, of course, you can smell the food cooking. The enticing aroma of meat slow cooked with exotic spices pervades.
On my first visit, I noticed a sign on the window that said,”$5 Lunch Specials.”
“What’s the lunch special?” I asked.
“Curry chicken or curry beef with rice and plantains.”
“I’ll have the curry chicken,” I said. And within minutes a plate of whole chicken pieces (complete with bone shards) was brought to the table smothered in their curry sauce with rice and peas (the peas are more like a curry sauce, too, than actual peas), a fried plantain, and a festival, which is similar to a fritter. It reeked of authenticity. A wealth of spices filled my mouth as I scrambled to eat every last bite. The portion size was a little smaller than the non-lunch specials on the menu as I found out on my following two visits. I felt satisfied, however someone with a larger appetite may need a tiny bit more food. The bill for this meal was $5.61.
Cee and Dee, or Cardell and Deon – a couple – have been cooking Jamiacan food in Tucson for years. In fact, if you’ve ever eaten any of the Jamiacan food being cooked in front of the Chicago Bar, that’s them. They seem like they’ve been working out of their little restaurant forever and definitely seem right at home doing what they’re doing.
On my second visit – now that I had cleared it for approval to bring a guest – we ordered the Jerk Chicken ($8.50), Oxtails ($12.50), and to drink I ordered a traditional Jamaican drink called “Sorrel” which is a hibiscus ginger drink lightly sweetened. Actually it was more than lightly sweetened. If you’re sensitive to sweet stuff, water it down or don’t get it. But it’s tasty. And purple. I had tried to order the Curry Goat instead of the Jerk Chicken which the owner, Deon (the “Dee” in CeeDee) told me usually sells out, but it was still cooking. The Jerk Chicken was slightly spicy, slightly sweet, and super moist. It, too, was whole chicken pieces and not available as a lunch special on that day. It’s a sizable portion that should be plenty of food for most of us. Perhaps a little too much for some of us. Not for me, though. The Oxtails – besides the fact that they were beef – were similarly flavored and I even asked if it was the same sauce, which the server assured me it was not. They, too were excellent and we both had trouble deciding which we liked better. In the end, though, it was the Jerk Chicken. It’s all too easy to dry out chicken and this dish was on the opposite end of the spectrum – moist and juicy. Both dishes were served with vegetables, rice and peas, and fried plantains.
I went one more time that week to try the Curry Goat ($12.50). In fact, as I was paying for the meal on my prior visit, I was asking Deon more about the Curry Goat, and a seated patron overheard and hollered out, “the curry goat is the best!” And it was good, however, I still liked the Jerk Chicken better. The goat seemed a little chewier than I prefer. I’ve eaten goat before and don’t remember it being that chewy. It could have been overcooked. It was quite gamey, as well. It, too was a sizable portion, plenty for most of us, unless you eat often at Claim Jumper.
I realize that as a responsible reviewer I should’ve gotten the dessert, but all three times I was stuffed and no one pays me to do this. But if you want it, they got it – Rum Cake ($3.50) and Potato Pudding ($3.50). Also, as a little bonus, at the end of our third visit, the server made us little mini portions of beet-carrot juice sweetened with sweetened condensed milk. Very tasty.
It’s a unique experience at CeeDee’s Jamaican Kitchen. You’ll feel like you’ve left Tucson. You’ll eat some authentic Jamaican food. You’ll get friendly, quick service. And, most likely, you’ll go back.