There's no doubt that Caribbean food is hot as in trendy and sizzling on the palate. The challenge is to find authentic Caribbean fare so far inland from the source. With no fake parrots, silk palm trees or waiters scurrying around in shorts and Nikes, Gossip's Caribbean Restaurant, on West Church Street, comfortably maintains the pace and ambience of a Kingston cafe.
With its genteel, gently worn atmosphere, Gossip's is named for the easy, breezy chit-chat that traditionally is exchanged at Jamaican watering holes. The dining area sports beach murals and paddle fans that were inspired by city and country cafes that co-owners Ed Munro and Trevor Wilson knew well during their years on the island.
Further contributing to the ambience, the only music you're likely to hear at Gossip's is reggae and soca. They bring in live bands about once a month, too.
We experimented with the menu and found the most enjoyable dishes were simple ones that were the most familiar to us. Super spicy jerk chicken was the hands-down favorite at our table. The appetizer ($4.50) was succulent and juicy, which can be tricky to pull off given the intense cooking process. If you're a novice, though, keep a glass of water handy. After we tried the chicken patty baked in sweet "coco" bread ($1), we were sorry we didn't order more. It would be easy to make a meal out of the crusty, flaky and moist pastries.
Curried goat ($6.50), a traditional dish that resembles lamb meat, took on a distinct yellow cast from the fresh curried gravy, and the heat level wasn't as intense as we had anticipated, based on the looks of it. We also sampled a shrimp roti, a Caribbean version of the burrito ($8), stuffed with meat and potatoes. The wrapping is a spongy pita bread that's pressed with ground-up split peas, and the potatoes were more dominant than the shrimp in this variety.
If you're in an experimental mood, the red snapper escoveitch is a fun choice. A whole snapper is deep-fried and then sautéed in a punchy mixture of onions, carrots and pimento seeds ($7.50).
Service was very friendly but not speedy, especially as the evening wore on and the restaurant filled up with customers. Save Gossip's for times when you're not in a rush and your taste buds and spirit need a spicy infusion.