Campbell’s Caribbean Cuisine, South Side Jamaica

Campbell's Caribbean Cuisine

When I first moved to Chicago, I was missing Jamaican food. I was accustomed to the countless Jamaican restaurants, cafes, and walk-ups in Brooklyn’s Flatbush, Carnasie, and Prospect Park neighbourhoods. My sister took me to a restaurant on the South Side named Maxine’s and oh was I in heaven. Well, Maxine’s has since moved to a location on Chicago’s West Side and Campbell’s Caribbean Cuisine has taken up residence in its place at 1225 E. 87th Street.

Beef Pattie

Beef Pattie

Fast forward to the near present. My sister and I were hanging out and after I had spent so much time wondering if Campbell’s was worth a trip, my sister grabbed her purse and keys and directed me to the car. Off we went. And on arrival, we noticed that the interior of the restaurant had changed. There was no spectacular decor about the place. The lounge look and feel was gone. But the smell of the food screamed, “Sit down and get ready for what’s going to happen.”

Jerk Chicken

Jerk Chicken

We had a real go of the menu and still decided not to order a ridiculous amount of food because we wanted to see if Campbell’s made the cut worthy enough for return visits. While catching up on happenings since we had last been together, we indulged beef patties and imbibed some ginger beer. The patties hit the spot, for true. And there is no such thing as a bad ginger beer, same being true here.

Brown Stew Chicken

Brown Stew Chicken

We ordered two traditional dishes. One was jerk chicken that was rather reminiscent of jerk chicken you get from the jerk mall in Port Antonio. The chicken fell off the bone with little effort, which was all the indication we needed to know that it was tender and moist. The same was the case with the brown stew chicken that hinted to me to get ingredients so I can make some in my slow cooker. Along with the chicken, we had rice and beans, cabbage, and plantains. Believe me when I say that a recalcitrant child who hates vegetables will love the cabbage here. And if you have the rice and beans and plantains served with it, the kid won’t miss meat.

Rice and Beans, Cabbage, Plantain

Rice and Beans, Cabbage, Plantain

After well over an hour of indulgence, my sister started telling me about some areas on the South Side that I had never gone to when I was living in South Shore and in Hyde Park. She took me to Brown Sugar Bakery at 328 E. 75th Street in a neighbourhood called Greater Grand Crossing. Everyone boasts about baking the best cakes and cupcakes ever. Brown Sugar Bakery has every right to boast the loudest. I had a caramel cupcake with caramel frosting clearly made homemade from brown sugar, butter, and milk. And to all bakeries still into red velvet cakes and cupcakes, just STOP NOW. The cake was not baked using cake mix, the same being true for the caramel cupcake. But it was the flavour and the texture that smacked of an original recipe being used to bake the red velvet cupcake. I have no problem going to the South Side for this kind of goodness. Brown Sugar Bakery has a regular customer and my sister has an appreciative little brother.

Brown Sugar Bakery

Red Velvet Cupcake, Caramel Cupcake

Because Chicago’s South Side does not have a large multicultural presence reflective of countries abroad, I had not captured many restaurants outside of Hyde Park for Chicago Alphabet Soup. There seems to be a number of Jamaican restaurants and a few other Caribbean restaurants scattered throughout the South Side. I think that this summer will mean me having a chance to try out several other various restaurants in the South Side vicinity. Maxine’s may have gone away and Campbell’s has moved in. And Brown Sugar Bakery may be the undoing of my flat tummy. Then again, all things in moderation. I’ll go every other week instead, not every week.

Campbell's Caribbean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Original Tropic Island, the Jamaican Way

Original Tropic Island

Original Tropic Island

Orange Lemonade

Orange Lemondade

Fall in Chicago is a rather nice time. I would say magical, but that sounds like it would be coming from someone telling a fairy tale that ends in “and the weather in Chicago year round was more inviting than the weather in San Diego.” Granted the temperatures are indeed nice this time of year – as far as mildly chilly goes – and the sky holds the most beautiful patches of popcorn clouds you’ll see, you still want to get outside and go somewhere. For me, that may mean a drive along Lake Michigan, going up the North Shore or on the hunt for something to satisfy my growling belly. Yes, yes, yes, I know you’re saying, “But you always are on the make when it comes to food.” Correct, I won’t deny that.

I had climbed behind the wheel of my Volkswagen Jetta and was ready to go vroom down the avenues when my cellphone rang. It was my god sister calling to inquire as to what I was doing, or rather what was I contemplating eating. She knows me very well, evidently. I was waffling between going for Senegalese or Jamaican. There was an “aha” in her voice as she mentioned a certain Jamaican restaurant on the South Side. “Oh, no, not the South Side,” I said, as if I never lived on the South Side. But there was Jamaican food to be had. My snobbery had to be set aside.

Jerk Chicken, Cabbage, Plantains, Rice and Peas

Jerk Chicken, Cabbage, Plantains, Rice and Peas

At 553 E. 79th Street is Original Tropic Island Jamaican restaurant. Oh what a wonderful day. Nothing says you have been transported to the island like the smell of a grill burdened with meats basted with jerk spices. And in keeping with going to holes in the wall, there was nothing fancy about the inside. The area where you order your food looks like a makeshift carry-out store. The seating area looks like it was pieced together. But it was the food that reminded me of the outdoor jerk shacks in Sheffield, Saint Ann Parish, Port Antonio, and in “the bush.”

Jerk chicken. Jerk catfish. Rice and beans. Cabbage. Yams. Plantains. Coco bread. Callalou. Ting. JAMAICAN FOOD IS MY LOVER.

Pink Lemonade Ting

Pink Lemonade Ting

The food came in carry-out containers. No problem, as we carried it to the seating area, opened the Styrofoam holders and commenced to handling business family style. There was no, “Please don’t eat from my plate” sentiments. There was no keeping up appearances. There was no wasting time. After all, we were family and the food was getting gobbled regardless of where the forks went. Chic-chic? Are you kidding? This was a serious matter, not charm school.

The meat had a smoky flavour that definitely reminded me of the huge jerk mall in Port Antonio where you walk up, make your request, and the cooks work their magic on the grills. Exactly like the meats served up from the grills at the jerk mall, it is all tender, all succulent, completely juicy, bursting with bliss, pa-pow-pow, happiness, and wow. If you smoke and you’re trying to stop, don’t go to Original Tropic Island and have their jerk meats. You’ll never give up the demon nicotine. The plantains were plump and ripe, and they had been prepared such that there was no chewy texture. Because they were ripe, they were sweet naturally, no sugar added. Loved the yams and they were the perfect complement to the callalou. Collard greens what? Mustard greens what? Kale what? Spinach what? They put crushed red peppers in the callalou. Ma Williams does that, too. The cabbage reminded me of the cabbage that my paternal grandmother used to make with a huge pot of curried chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Talk about eating well. There were, of course, rice and beans that added a teeter to my god sister’s and my walk after we were done. WE WERE NOT DEFEATED. We were moving in slow motion, though.

Jerk Catfish, Plantains, Yams, Rice and Beans

Jerk Catfish, Plantains, Yams, Rice and Beans

Just before leaving, what was going to be a matter of paying the tab had turned into a long conversation among friends. A little bit of patois, a lot of laughter, reminiscing about the island – me having visited numerous times – the staff having lived there, it felt like I had gone to visit my paternal grandmother. I am the last person to argue about not feeling at home when I go to any establishment with that kind of atmosphere. In short, we didn’t go to the South Side, but rather we went home. And as we exited and everyone said, “We’ll see you soon, Brother, Sister,” yep, I will be going home in the near future, back to Original Tropic Island.