By LAURA REILEY
Times Food Critic
CLEARWATER — It has been a couple of years since Edyth James closed Saffron's Caribbean Restaurant in Jungle Prada on Park Street. Her sister, Jackie Hill, has kept jerk chicken, curried goat and all the Jamaican classics within reach with Saffron's Catering, but after the death of her beloved husband, "Cheffie," James needed a change.
She worked with John Warren to open Savannah's Cafe in St. Petersburg, turning her attention to the foods of the Deep South. She left there last Thanksgiving, and after a recent mission trip with a buddy to Belize, she returned to find her kids excited. They'd found the perfect place.
It's in downtown Clearwater, a casual cafe spot with room to spread out. The previous tenant's wall murals of the Acropolis provide a quirky red herring, but Callaloo's Caribbean Cafe has resurrected all the Jamaican comfort foods that made Saffron's beloved. It's a lunch place mostly, with some people zipping by in the late afternoon for a little take-home dinner package of oxtail and butter beans ($9.95) or stew peas and rice ($6.95).
This last is my favorite dish, a party of flavors and colors: Coconut milk gives the whole thing lushness, the rice and soft red beans studded with planks of cooked sweet potato and sweet onion, sprigs of fresh thyme giving it a sophisticated herbal note. A dish that traditionally has salt beef and stew beef in it, this one was delightfully vegetarian.
Callaloo's, named for a Caribbean water spinach, is a family affair. James is in the kitchen ("I told my kids they'd have to triple my salary, but three times zero is zero, I guess") while son Tennyson Jerome and daughter-in-law Michelle work the front. Plates come out homey and heaped with goodies (a fritterlike johnnycake, a few hot peppers, tangy-sweet sauteed plantain).
Sip a sweet, deep purple hibiscus island tea ($1.89) while you wait for a plate of marinated grilled boneless chicken thighs ladled with James' haunting jerk sauce. Like a complex steak sauce with high notes of allspice and a kick of scotch bonnet heat, the jerk is offered as a plate ($7.95) with rice and peas and onions, or as a sandwich ($6.95), an inviting mess served on soft island bread. It's good either way, as is the curry offered with either chicken ($7.95) or goat ($9.95). I prefer how the musk of the soft goat meat contrasts the sweetness of the coconut curry sauce.
Sandwiches come with either sweet potato fries or a coleslaw studded with hunks of pineapple, the former more alluring.
And for dessert, James' own pineapple upside-down cake ($2.95) is delicious, very Grandma's kitchen and not overly sweet. She may have needed a hiatus from Jamaican cuisine, but we're glad to have her back.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.