Photos by Justin Fox Burks
Kingston stew fish is a delicious blend of tilapia, pimentos, peppers and scallions served over rice and pigeon peas.
No wonder sorrel is a traditional holiday drink in Jamaica. Brewed overnight and infused with ginger, hibiscus flowers and sweetened cane sugar, the memory of the ice cold drink lingers like a favorite Christmas present.
One of five thirst-quenchers on the menu at Evelyn & Olive, the city’s only Jamaican restaurant, sorrel competes impressively with a simple bottle of grapefruit Ting, Jamaica’s favorite carbonated beverage. House cocktails such as signature rum punch or Dark & Stormy, a mix of Myer’s dark rum and Jamaican ginger beer, offer more fortified companions to the restaurant’s flavorful menu that joins Jamaican dishes with Southern sass.
Opened since February of last year on a lonely block of Madison Avenue, Evelyn & Olive settled right in, thanks to the skills and sociability of owners Tony Hall and Vicki Newsom. From the start, the couple kept things simple: unpretentious food; affordable prices (house wine is $6 a glass, entrees top out at $12); and an easy ambience Bob Marley would surely like.
The menu is accessible, even for customers new to Jamaican food. The restaurant’s excellent vegetable sides, also available as small plates, anchor entrees with authentic island flavors. Try pigeon peas, a popular legume in the Caribbean with a rich nutty flavor, mixed with rice, seasonings, and chopped green onions or Jama Jama, a dish of spinach softly sautéed with garlic, Parmesan and a kiss of cayenne.
Salt fish salad is another unique addition to Evelyn & Olive’s menu. Cooks reconstitute dried cod with spices, pimentos, and olive oil into a deliciously pungent dish plated with chopped tomatoes, green onions and a ring of cucumber slices.
Pork, shrimp, chicken and tilapia work their way across the menu in wraps, sandwiches, entrees, and pasta dishes. Tilapia, for example, comes four ways: blackened, seasoned with Boom Boom sauce, and served on a ciabatta roll; fried crispy, piled into corn tortillas and dressed up with salsa; pan-seared with spices, scallions, and pimento; and kicked up with jerk seasoning for red pepper cream sauce fettucini topped with sweet corn relish.
Desserts circle in and out with unexpected finesse. Look for chocolate molten lava cake with kiwi sauce and strawberry compote or French toast pound cake, plated with strawberries, blueberries, vanilla ice cream, and a drizzle of Ghirardelli chocolate.
Evelyn & Olive, 630 Madison Ave. (901) 748-5422
(This story appeared initially in the May issue of Memphis magazine as part of a feature on the city’s Memphis in May celebration.)