Best of Phoenix

Caribbean Queen

Chef Eulet King's smile is as warm and inviting as a Bob Marley tune — think "Three Little Birds," with the line, "Don't worry 'bout a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be all right." You might even hear that melody wafting through the air of King's modest Irie Jamaican Restaurant in south Phoenix, mingling with the aromas of jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtails in gravy, fried dumplings known as johnnycakes, and so on. If you're lucky, Miss Eulet will emerge from behind the kitchen curtain, blessing you with her smile and her country hospitality, the latter born of her childhood on her father's farm in Portland Parish, Jamaica.

Portland's Plenty
I was raised up on a big property — acres and acres of land. My dad had cows, goats, pigs, donkeys, everything. We had a six-bedroom house, and surrounding it was all kinds of fruit trees. Mangos, oranges, you name it. Every day, I'd climb the trees to get the fruit. No fruit was too hard for me to get.

Why "Irie"?
Irie is the slang word for feelin' good. I think I'm feelin' irie. And I want everybody to feel irie, too, by eating this food. So I called the restaurant "Irie," because you're gonna be feeling good leavin' out of here.

Welcome to Jamrock
If I go back to Jamaica tomorrow, I'd be talking the real Jamaican way. To say hello, you might say, "Wha' happen', man?" Or if a man sees a good-looking woman, he might say, "How ya doin', sweetie?"

Can't Blame Us for Trying
Before I moved to Arizona, I ran a bar in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, called Mr. Wall's. Every second of the day, men would be trying to flirt. But I don't pay attention to it, because guys are like that. Here I stay behind the curtain in the kitchen, and I put a beautiful girl out here to take my place. When I'm working, it's all about work. There's no time to play.

Island Music
Beenie Man is my favorite. He's one of the hottest. I like Sean Paul, too. And [reggae star] Wayne Wonder. He's my cousin. He's really from Kingston, but he's back and forth all the time because his mom was raised up in Portland. When I get a bigger restaurant, I want to get him to come over here and perform for me.

Some Like It Hot
I can't make jerk chicken like the way I make it in Jamaica. It's too hot. People won't eat it here. Some Americans like spicy food, but I try to make it in between. Not too spicy, not too mild.

Life in Sand Land
I love Arizona. But the hardest part is that in Jamaica we're surrounded by a lot of water. The beach. The big ocean. And there are a lot of rivers and streams. That's the only thing missing for me here in Arizona. The heat? I can live with it. It's hot in Jamaica, too, but not like this.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons