2502 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95816. (916) 440-1088.

Mmmm, I love Caribbean food! The fiery heat of the Scotch bonnet peppers and the tang of the citrus in the jerk paste, all washed down with a ginger beer or a cold Jamaican Red Stripe. Pure bliss. So last week, I was pretty excited to meet up with a friend for a midweek lunch at the newly opened Negril Island BBQ on J Street. The weather had been a blustering mess and I was looking forward to eating some authentic Caribbean cooking. My tastebuds were looking forward to a cascade of spices that would excite my palate and transport me from the cold, wet streets of Sacramento to a warm beach in the South Atlantic. I was hoping Negril Island BBQ would knock it out of the park for me.

I arrived at the casual eatery during prime-time lunch hour to find only one other patron eating. (Not a good sign typically, but hey- it's a new place, maybe they're still getting established.) The trim dining room sported cute tropical-themed table wraps on each table and colorful island photographs adorning the walls, but the overall mood in the restaurant wasn't lively and warm like in other Caribbean restaurants I've been to. It was too quiet and slightly chilly in there. I stood at the counter a bit unsure what to do as there was no menu board to peruse. Luckily for me, a few moments later the owner ambled out of the kitchen. He was a friendly, upbeat gentleman and took my order quickly. I ordered the beef brisket with a side of potato salad and the beans and rice. When my dining companion showed up, she ordered a combination platter of the jerk chicken and the ribs along with a side of the potato salad. She had recently gone on a trip to the Caribbean and like myself had her heart (and teeth) set on some tasty, homey Caribbean fare. Service was quick. Our orders came out on disposable plates with plastic utensils. This would have been fine except my brisket was tough and dry and cutting it with a plastic picnic knife is akin to trying to saw a redwood with a butter knife. It's futile. The few pieces I was able to tear off had a slight smokey flavor but were extremely overcooked. The sides I ordered, however, were quite delicious. The potato salad tasted like it was made from scratch and the corn muffin was light and sweet. I enjoyed the red beans and rice, served with a dollop of the jerk sauce but my fried plantain slices resembled small, cold hockey pucks. My dining companion was kind enough to give me one of her ribs to taste. I thought the rib was well cooked and tender. I would have found it more appealing if there was some crispy char to it and if it had more of that sweet BBQ sauce but that just may be me...I like my ribs slathered in sauce. I didn't taste the jerk chicken but by the look on my dining companion's face and the largely uneaten portion left on her plate, I can guess it was a fail.

Overall, my visit to Negril Island BBQ was less satisfying than I hoped. I wish the proprietor well. It's a tough restaurant market these days and opening a new place is always a learning curve. I found the service at Negril Island BBQ to be welcoming and fast, but the food just lacks the deliciousness that I've had at other Caribbean restaurants. That incredible layering of flavor, that nice deep spicy, smoky taste that emerges from cooking in the fire pits or steel drum, the succulent barbecue...ahhhh! For me, the search will have to continue.
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