Let me preface this feature by saying this was my introduction to Caribbean food, and I was definitely out of my comfort zone. However, my guest was right at home with the cuisine, and he stretched me to think outside of my dining norm.
Ocho Rios – which means eight rivers – is actually a town in Jamaica and now a restaurant by the same name serves up Caribbean-inspired food in Fort Walton Beach.
I had a difficult time deciphering the menu at Ocho Rios, as I did not recognize most of the items listed. Main courses included ackee and salt fish, escovitch fish and oxtail. Even the beverages had me furrowing my brow with offerings such as Sorrel, Lemogin and Tings.
Thankfully our server, who was also the cook and cashier, gave us thorough explanations. Oxtail is just what it sounds like, the tail of an ox. Ackee and salt fish is a traditional Jamaican dish of ackee fruit and salted cod. Escovitch fish is seasoned fish that has been marinated and fried in a vinegar-based dressing. Sorrel is a hibiscus drink with orange peel and ginger. Lemongin is a mix of lemonade and ginger, and Tings is a popular Jamaican grapefruit soda.
For my drink, I ordered Lemogin – which ended up having a heavy ginger bite. My guest ordered the Jamaican root beer, and to his surprise he said the flavor reminded him of a strong ginger ale.
We did not realize there was an appetizer menu until after we had ordered our entrees, but the two offerings are beef patties and hot wings.
For my entrée I ordered the brown stew chicken, which came with two sides. I wanted white rice, but was told it was not ready yet, so I settled for rice and beans. I also showed my adventurous side and ordered plantains.
My guest ordered curry goat, which is exactly what it sounds like, goat that has been cooked in curry sauce. He also ordered rice and beans and plantains for his sides. Other side orders include baked potatoes, fries, seasoned cabbage and broccoli.
When our meals arrived, I was surprised to find that both proteins were served bone-in. My Western culture was showing as I picked around the bones with my fork, but my guest could not have been happier and eagerly dove into his bone-in goat, exclaiming it was very good.
The brown stew chicken reminded me of something I had tried before, and my guest helped me to identify the flavor as a Mexican brown mole’ sauce, although it also reminded me of a Japanese brown curry. The chicken was tender, and the taste was good and paired well with the sides.
Speaking of the sides, the rice and beans turned out to be a delicious mixture of white rice and black beans, and the plantains stole the show. If you have never tried fried plantains, they are similar to french fries but have a more banana flavor. The fried plantains at Ocho Rios were perfectly crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside and steaming hot.
There is not a dessert menu at Ocho Rios, but they do offer a limited menu of wine and bottled beer.
As I mentioned earlier, the day we visited I believe the staff at Ocho Rios was a one-man show. Our server did a good job checking on us, taking our order and bringing our food out in a timely manner.
Ocho Rios has a simple, mom-and-pop feel to it. The lighting is dim and the décor is sparse. There are two flat-screen TVs that were playing sports.
I got the feeling the restaurant is modeled after restaurants in Jamaica with a simple design style, focusing more on serving up good, authentic Caribbean cuisine.
A FINAL TASTE
If you are feeling adventurous or want to taste authentic foods from your last cruise to the Caribbean, Ocho Rios is the place for you.