While there are Jamaican‑inspired and influenced items on many area restaurant menus—it’s kind of rare to find a place that doesn’t offer something with “jerk seasoning,” even if it’s only a bag of chips—Bamboo’s Jamaican Restaurant seems to stand alone in offering a full list of representative dishes from the island.
Jamaican cuisine is rooted in African, Indian, Spanish, Chinese and British influences, and is characterized by its ingenuity in getting maximum nutrition and flavor out of sometimes humble ingredients.
Bamboo’s is situated at a very busy intersection in old Fort Walton Beach, near the ballet school, some arty stores and that nostalgic strip of t‑shirt shops, tattoo parlors and bars that defines the heart of the Miracle Strip.
My daughter Grace (the Tiny Diner) and I ate lunch at Bamboo recently. They open at 11 a.m. every day except Monday (they’re closed then), and serve until 9 or 10 every night but Wednesday (7 p.m.). The menu, which varies daily, is handwritten on a board over the counter, where orders are placed and paid for.
The day we ate there, one person (Denisha) was handling front of house, including serving the food, with one or more cooks in the back. The menu is available all day, and there are lunch specials. I saw no children’s menu, but most of the items are adaptable to kids.
The counter offers bar‑stool seating, and there are tables around the small dining area. Colors are bright and cheerful, and the walls are decorated with photos of Jamaica and Jamaican foods, beverage signs, and (naturally) Bob Marley.
Denisha took us through the menu items, describing them and answering questions. I wasn’t sure how TD would handle Jamaican food, which is richly (and sometimes hotly) seasoned, and makes use of flavorful but underused meats like oxtail and goat, in addition to chicken, pork and salt fish.
She chose brown stew chicken, with rice and steamed cabbage. I ordered the sampler plate—oxtail and beans, curry chicken, curry goat, jerk ribs, and jerk chicken, with rice and beans and cabbage. To drink, I had ginger beer and TD had a pink grapefruit soda called Ting. A number of brightly colored fruit sodas were on display, along with standard soft drinks, malt beverages, beer (Red Stripe, too) and some wine.
The food arrived, with my rice and cabbage on a separate plate. It had to be, since the sampler portion was big enough to be shared. Denisha refreshed my memory on what each item was, then left us to our feast.
TD had an adult‑sized portion (I did not see a kids menu), so I figured we’d have plenty left over for dinner. Her tender chicken was stewed on the bone, cut into bite sized pieces, in a thick sauce that was full of sweet and savory spice—almost Christmassy in scent and taste. She had to adapt to eating off the bone, but was getting the knack.
I ate around the clock, starting with the oxtail. Oxtail is rich, luxurious meat, and it was cooked so tender it could just be peeled and flicked off the bones. The dark sauce and broad, flat beans made it a real stick‑to‑the‑ribs dish. The chicken curry was almost light by contrast, with a smooth but nicely balanced spice.
The goat, like the oxtail, was dense, but pleasantly chewy and worth lingering over. I wish more restaurants served goat. It tastes somewhere between pork and beef, and I think a lot of people would love it. It’s a big part of Caribbean, Mexican and Indian cuisine.
The ribs and chicken had a similar jerk seasoning, thick and slightly sweet, with some smoke and bite. Among the traditional jerk seasoning spices are allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and brown sugar. I definitely tasted some of the sweet spices here. I took more jerk chicken home for my wife.
Other items on the menu that day were ackee and salt fish (ackee is a staple fruit of Jamaica; cooked, it looks like cheese curds or scrambled eggs), jerk wings and Johnny cake, beef or vegetable patties, jerk or curry wrap, jerk chicken salad, a fish sandwich, and daily soup. Among the other sides are plantains, baked potato and roti (flatbread).
For dessert, we split a square of toto—slightly sweet Jamaican spice cake laced with shredded coconut.
The menu changes at Bamboo’s, but whatever they have, it’s worth taking a trip and maybe acquiring some new tastes.
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