There's reggae on the radio, coconut water in the cooler, and chicken patties under the heat lamp. Lorenz Island Kuisine, with its bright walls and friendly owners, is a welcoming spot that has been serving authentic Jamaican food in Codman Square for a year now. Chris Lorenz Graham owns the place and runs it along with his wife, Samantha, and sister Michelle. The siblings were born in Jamaica and learned to cook at the knee of a master: their mother.
"My mother cooked everything and made me eat it," says Chris Graham. Not that he's complaining. "She's still the best cook I know." As if on cue, his mother, Cynthia, walks in, and checks on the desserts. She supplies the restaurant with her specialties several times a week. A kindergarten teacher, her passion is baking, and she does wedding and special-occasion cakes on the side.
But first things first. That would be the patties ($1.50), which we start off with. They're flaky pastry pockets filled with either chicken or beef, both of them with a peppery kick. It's the Jamaican way; they love their Scotch bonnet peppers. We wash them down with a bottle of coconut water; it's refreshing and, surprisingly, not too sweet.
The menu here is straightforward, and you can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner. On weekend nights, the crowd can go downstairs for music and dancing.
Except for the two fish dishes, the entrees come in three sizes and are the same price ($5.50, $7.49, $8.99): each comes with rice or roti skin, and a choice of sides such as plantains, rice and peas, dumplings, mac and cheese, and johnny cake.
No Jamaican feast is complete without jerk chicken. Ask for the sauce on the side, though; it will light you up. "That sauce is a winter thing," says Chris Graham. "It's really good in cold weather." It's good in hot weather, too, as long as you have a large glass of water on standby. One member of our party, who slathered it on, noted that he had "a love/hate relationship with the sauce."
There's a nice, spicy rub that makes the skin crisp while the chicken falls off the bone. The rice contains red beans and chopped pork, and the callaloo we've ordered as a side reminds us of a sweeter version of collard greens, flecked with bits of stewed tomatoes.
The tangy curry chicken has a hint of coconut milk and lime; its gravy is wonderful with rice. The curry goat, also a Jamaican staple, is almost a stew; the chunks of meat are tender and slightly garlicky.
I'm a fried plantain fanatic, and these are fantastic, served piping hot, slightly mushy and sweet. They aren't greasy, as is often the case. Graham, a vegetarian, explains that his kitchen is health-conscious: He uses as little oil as possible and no MSG.
For his own meal, Graham often chooses the ital stew, which is a medley of vegetables - kidney, lima, and green beans; carrots; and potatoes - cooked in a light gravy. Non-meat eaters may also choose the brown stewed fish ($12.75), a whole snapper (or whatever's available that day) cooked with carrots, green peppers, and onions. It's fried lightly, then stewed in a pot with the veggies and a light sauce - but not enough pizzazz, unfortunately.
No Jamaican meal is complete without oxtail, and Lorenz's is slow-cooked and tender, served with small soft dumplings that nearly melt in your mouth.
Back to that dessert. We detest American fruit cake with those hard little red and green things, along with all hideous manner of shriveled-up fruit. But Graham's mother urged us to give her version ($3.50) a try, so we did, gingerly sticking our fork into it. Surprise! It was dark, rich, and moist. No green and red things. No big chunks of dried fruit, just a hint of lemon and lime peel.
The cake has a wonderful flavor of Jamaican rum, which Cynthia uses liberally - before, during, and after baking. The sweet white topping with a layer of almond paste was, well, icing on the cake.