Over at the corner of 39th and Main, restaurateur Sharon Thomas' Island Spice Caribbean Cuisine now inhabits the former drive-through bank that for many years served as home to Hot Tamale Brown¹s Cajun Express carry-out joint. Thomas, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, first opened for business at 1103 East 72nd Street last October but headed north after Tamale Brown's cashed out of the old bank. She moved in there two months ago.
"This space is much better for me," Thomas says, standing behind the counter next to a glass-and-stainless-steel warming oven with a half-dozen puffy meat pies perched neatly on its shelves. "A lot more people see us here."
See and smell -- the fragrant aroma of curry, peppers and sizzling cooking oil wafts out of the oddly shaped building from 8 a.m. -- when Thomas starts cooking -- until nightfall. Thomas serves her fare until 8 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Thomas and her staff call the highly spiced, meat-stuffed pies "beef patties," but they're not very different from the equally flaky empañadillos over at Don Pepe's. That's because the flavors and cooking style of Spain played as great a role as those of African, French, Indian and Dutch influences in Caribbean culinary traditions. Indian culture's fingerprint is evident in Island Spice's No. 1-selling dish, curried chicken, for which tender chunks of stewed chicken are simmered in a gold-tinged jade sauce that isn't as fiery as you might think. Rather, it's surprisingly soothing.
There's nothing fancy here. Dinners are served on paper plates or in Styrofoam boxes, but the portions are plentiful. And where else in Kansas City can one dine sumptuously on tender and flavorful curried goat or, if they're available, cow feet stewed in curry with fresh butter beans?
"They're very popular," Thomas says. And why not? This is a cowtown, isn't it?