The Jamaican oxtail soup at Starlight Cuisine is nothing short of a religious experience — tender meat falling off the bone, with lima beans and thick, doughy pods called "spinners" bathed in a rich, spice-filled gravy that regulars order by the cupful. But for Janet and Trevor Brown, owners of Caribbean cuisine, divine intervention is business as usual.
"We prayed on what to call the place," they tell me. "And Starlight just popped up as being different than everything else."
And Starlight Cuisine is different, that's for sure. Not the typical burger spots I write about; but the quick service, cheap, good fare, and not a trace of a server made it thumbs-up for me as Fry Girl fodder.
Jamaica was where Janet and Trevor grew up, but another Jamaica — Jamaica, Queens, New York — was where fate brought them together. In a supermarket, no less. After moving to Phoenix three years ago for an accounting gig at a law firm, Janet was laid off in 2009. It was then she made the decision to fulfill her lifelong dream of running her own restaurant.
"I asked Trevor to come to Phoenix and start the restaurant with me. It was a dream of his, too," Janet says. "But he said he couldn't do it because we weren't married. So I flew to New York, married Trevor, and we came back to Phoenix and opened Starlight Cuisine."
Thank heavens. Featuring classic Caribbean fare like brown stew chicken, jerk chicken (requiring several brow-patting napkins), and the spicy pepper shrimp appetizer (served wet in a thick garlic sauce), the Browns bring Jamaican food know-how to a sparse but bright interior setting with a barely-there storefront sign and a floor you could eat their sweet, fried plantains off of.
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With a dose of daily lunch and dinner specials in portion sizes that verge on plate spillover, regulars know to come in on Saturdays for the curried goat, while newbies can partake of an off-the-menu variety platter — three Caribbean favorites with two sides and plantains. Chances are you'll talk to Janet or Trevor or both, since they make up the entire staff, usually working until 4 a.m. to get the Starlight ready before it opens at 11.
With their schedule, you'd think the Browns wouldn't have time for new menu items, but the Starlight moves in mysterious ways.
"People will call and ask if we're authentic Jamaican," Janet says laughing. "I tell them, we're from Jamaica and we lived in Jamaica, Queens. What more do you want?"