Island breezes

Mar 21, 2007 at 12:00 am

When that wintry moment arrived, and it happens to all of us, the day when you feel you can't abide another hour of icy slush and slushy ice, I put on my island shirt and headed for Irie.

Located west of Canton Center Road, it's hardly Jamaica, yet it's just as friendly. Owner Robert Campbell has done his best, within the confines of a strip mall and without a liquor license, to create an affable atmosphere, and his food is so tasty that if anyone asks, "How you doin', mon?" you're bound to reply, "I'm doin' irie" [EYE-ree]. You're feeling just fine.

That irie feeling is illustrated by a small mural of a contented, dreadlocked person in a hammock, a drink on the ground by her side. Walls and plates of yellow, coral and deep sea-green and -blue, painted skylights, framed cut-out pictures of island flora and fauna — Campbell does his best to create in the Michigan exurbs the warmth of home. One way is to leave children's books set in Jamaica on each table, so you can read about the adventures of Tilly Bummie, by Hazel D. Campbell, if your dining partner hasn't yet shaken off his cold-weather scowl.

The menu showcases seafood, of course, alongside jerk chicken and curried goat. But it's also the homey side dishes that make Irie worth a trek.

To try them, the appetizer sampler platter is positively the way to go. It comes with a mango-coconut-pineapple dipping sauce that melds the essence of the tropics into one bright sunny flavor; it includes well-browned but tender crab cakes, jerk wings, fried plantains, coconut-flavored shrimp that are crunchy and sweet, and, best of all, codfish fritters. These spheres of comfort food are savory mush inside and crisp coating outside, served with a horseradish sauce. If you order them separately, they come with a bright side dish of their own, a heap of red and yellow pepper strips with pineapple.

No one should be afraid of goat, which in Irie's curry is spicy, not goaty, and more like an island beef stew than anything else, with onions, carrots and potatoes. Jerk chicken is spicier but not overly so. The serving is called a chicken quarter, though the shape of the parts was unfamiliar to me. No matter: The taste was warm, as in inviting. You can specify all white meat for a dollar more.

Other land-based options are jerk chicken or pork, curried chicken and stewed beef. The jerks can be sandwiches too, with sweet potato fries on the side. Several dishes are available in regular sizes at $9.50-$12.50 or "lighter portions" at $8-$9.50. Particularly good buys are the "meal deals," where two people can order, for example, jerks of chicken and pork, two sides, and the vegetable of the day for $17. Six people pay just $48.

Irie serves curried shrimp and escovitched salmon and tilapia. Escovitched fish is cooked in a sauce of hot peppers, vinegar, tomato and onion, and although the sauce was good, I found the salmon itself on the dry side. Better was a special of Lane snapper (similar to red snapper), cooked whole, with all the bones that implies, but worth the picking through.

All meals come with a vegetable of the day, such as carrots, cabbage and broccoli sautéed just to the right point of doneness. Sides include rice and peas cooked in coconut milk; fried dumplings, which taste like a hard version of biscuits; and festivals, which are dumplings too, but with cornmeal.

Irie's desserts are sublime. Luscious mango cheesecake pairs the slight tartness of mango with a creamy bottom layer. Coconut-pineapple cake is exceptionally moist, with real whipped cream, fresh pineapple and coconut on top.

The usual island soft drinks (D&G Sof Drink brand) are available, such as Cola Champagne (cream soda) and grapefruit-flavored Ting. Irish Moss, for example, is peanut-flavored.

Any excuse for a party: Irie celebrated its Re-Grand Opening/first anniversary March 16 with reggae band Adventures of Steven Springer. The policy "wear an island shirt and get a free smoothie" remains in effect for all comers.


Hours are 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday ("sometimes later"), and noon-7 p.m. on Sunday.

Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].