'Mamaâ?� Millie Parker has one of those smiles that lights up a room. But when the proprietress of this UCF-area Jamaican cafÃ© saw that I had seared my lip and chin by biting too soon into a piping hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven beef patty ($1.75), that smile turned upside down. Spotting my noticeable wince from the kitchen, she quickly came to check on me and I soon found myself on the receiving end of a little TLC ' the kind only Mama can give. So while my flesh was scorched by that hot meaty juice, my soul was assuaged by her genuine concern and soothing nature. I allowed the patty to cool, and took the opportunity to gulp down some tangy Ting soda ($1.25) and chat with Millie about her spiffy digs, which are a definite notch above the original cafÃ©'s old space on Colonial Drive. (FYI, a friend of Millie's will be opening up a Caribbean restaurant in that old space in the coming months.) Turns out that Lazy Moon, the pie-and-beer joint a couple of doors down, invested in Millie's to the tune of a 50 percent stake and gave the interior a much-needed makeover. The walls are now swathed in banana yellow, with large photographs, wood tables and lighting in the form of inverted Red Stripe beer buckets lending a relaxed feel with a hip touch of faux authenticity.
But unlike the dÃ©cor, the food here is the real deal. While the blistering beef patty was satisfactory (I prefer a thicker crust), the jerk chicken ($7.25; $9.25 large) is undoubtedly the finest in the city. Corpulent pieces rubbed in piquant seasonings and slightly seared were superbly juicy, while the low-grade heat was enough to make it thoroughly enjoyable. We chose white rice and perfectly steamed cabbage as our sides ' both were great. Goat roti ($8.50) offers a tad more spice and will appeal to those looking for a little exotic allure to their meal. I have an aversion to stuffing roti with bone-in pieces of meat, so I opted instead for the flatbread, filled with a thin layer of ground yellow split peas, as a side with the goat. Tearing off pieces of the bread and dipping it into the exquisite and luxuriant curry was an absolute joy. The goat meat was tender, and there were enough potatoes to keep the protein-to-carb ratio in proper proportion. Gnaw-worthy pieces of oxtail ($9) fell off the bone, but the meat was more on the fatty side. The sauce was fine, but no match for the goat curry. The desiccated plantains on the side didn't impress me, but the rice-and-peas was nicely done.
A smattering of vegan choices ensures inclusivity, while wraps and combination bowls will appeal to UCF students on the go. I was really looking forward to indulging in Millie's chocolate festival ($3), sweet cornmeal fritters, but she was all out. Instead, we pecked away at the solid slab of sweet potato pudding ($3), a dense dessert spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Carrot cake ($2.50) is also available, but it isn't fashioned by Millie's hands.
Whatever your opinion of the food, you can't help but get the distinct impression that Millie has poured her heart and soul into this eatery and is determined to keep bellies pleased for another decade. And after sampling that curry, she's got my goat.
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