Exotic is the best word to describe the dining experience at Callaloo's. Diners are transported to a gastronomical "taste of the Caribbean" where known foods collide with the unknown for quite the culinary experience. The striking aromas, the classic Caribbean menu, the laid-back friendliness of the staff and the local music all offer an experience like few others in Tulsa.
Eager to sample Caribbean cuisine, I convinced a friend of mine to dine with me this particular evening. It wasn't too busy for a Friday, but the pace did pick up around 8pm when more diners arrived and a band was tuning up for its gig.
Callaloo's menu is not too expansive, just somewhat unexpected. It's not often that I would order Ackee and Salted Cod Fish for dinner and Cassava Pone Pie for dessert. My friend and I concluded that sampling new foods could be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.
The staff was very accommodating with our lack of knowledge when it came to the dishes (and their ingredients) on the menu. So, to begin, a primer in Caribbean terminology and common foods is needed.
The term Callaloo, while often used as the name of a dish, is a large green spinach-like leaf of the taro (a tropical plant with a starchy, tuberous root) that is very popular in the Caribbean islands. It is often prepared in the same way as collard greens or turnip greens.
While the aromatic and versatile curry spice is not usually associated with Caribbean food, it is prominent in Callaloo's dishes: Curry Goat Roti, Curry Chicken Roti, Curry Beef Roti and Curry Goat (practically considered a national Jamaican dish eaten frequently). Roti, another very popular Caribbean item, is like a quesadilla, according to our server. It is a round wrap (made of wheat flour, salt and water) similar to a tortilla and filled with various foods.
Jamaicans often use Ackee, another menu item, as a vegetable in dishes, even though Ackee is actually a fruit.
Only the arils (fleshy, brightly colored cover of a seed) are eaten.
We began our Caribbean cuisine journey with a Jerk Chicken Roti Melt ($6.95) and Beef Pattie ($5.95). The Roti Melt could easily have been mistaken for a quesadilla; the roti was filled with mildly spicy chopped jerk chicken, sliced yellow and green bell peppers and cheese. While the flavor of the meat with the peppers was a nice burst of jerk spices, we found the roti slightly dry. Two sauces, a white, creamy ranch-like sauce with a brisk kick of flavor and a red sauce, which was on the spicy side, were served with the roti, but they still were not enough to balance the dryness of this wrap.
The Beef Pattie was akin to a British pastie or a Cuban pie; a thick pastry was filled with seasoned ground beef. A sweet and spicy sauce came with this appetizer, which we poured inside the pattie before eating. This was good, but heavy on the pastry.
For our main course, we shared the Ackee and Salted Cod Fish ($10.50), which is a Jamaican Ackee prepared with all natural spices and sautéed with onion, garlic and tomatoes, and, of course, salted cod fish.
This was served with steamed corn dumplings and fried plantain. What a marvelous dish!
The mix of the chopped salted cod mingled well with the sautéed blend of white onion, tomato and green pepper. The ackee was probably the most interesting part of this dish: the plump, fresh yellow fruit was oval-shaped and had minimal flavor, yet complemented the overall taste of the dish. The very salty cod (chopped in little pieces) was a good combination for the flavors.
The corn dumplings were like Indian fry bread or sopapillas; a dough made of corn flavor was fried, resulting in a puffed up fry bread. The fried plantains were a slightly sweet complement to the entire dish.
For dessert, we shared the Cassava Pone Pie ($5.75), a tropical cassava root with exotic spices, coconut, pumpkin and raisins baked until golden brown. This was served with whipped cream and toasted coconut shavings on top. No flour is in this rich and thick "flat and square-shaped" pie. A pumpkin spice was the main flavor.
No alcoholic drinks are served, so we indulged in a few Caribbean drinks, Sorrel ($2.50), which comes from an all natural Hibiscus plant and is red in color, and Jamaican Ting ($2.25), a bottled carbonated beverage from red Jamaican grapefruit concentrate. Both were very good selections for flavor and interest. Other options include Vita Ginger Malt ($2.25), a tropical root beer with ginger flavor; Ginseng-up ($2.25) tropical plant root; and Ginger Beer ($2.25). Soft drinks are also available.
Callaloo's also has common foods to the Caribbean diet, some of which might not be fully embraced off the island: goat and oxtail. One's first thought about these menu options might be repulsive, but these two meats are staples in Africa, Asia, South and Central America.
Goat or mutton is a very healthy meat being low in fat, and because of its molecular structure, it is easier to digest than other meats; it is tender and moist, and therefore, is making its way into the American diet. Goat is quick to dismiss as a food selection because of its strong, gamey flavor, yet depending on how it was raised and prepared, it can be quite a delicacy.
The Curry Goat ($12.50) at Callaloo's is an example. With the rich spices and the tenderness of the meat, this dish comes highly recommended. This Jamaican Curry Goat is served with rice and peas and fried plantain. The curry spices enhance the meat's flavor, so the flavor is more exotic.
Trini Stew Oxtail ($12.95, said to be served soon) is beef oxtail with island fresh seasonings, cooked to perfection and served with rice and peas and fried plantain.
Dining here is an experience of the Caribbean. The dishes with their interesting ingredients and textures, the very friendly service and the live reggae music are an adventure of the mind, body and soul.
Callaloo's: A Taste of the Caribbean
6946 S. Lewis
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