Irie is a Jamaican word commonly used by Rastafarians that means “the state of feeling great–like paradise or nirvana.”
Often, I fear trying new things, but one of the points of this quest is to get out of my comfort zone. I think, for several of us, a Jamaican restaurant on the Northwest-side of Milwaukee, pushed us a bit. In fact, this was our first time out of the little downtown bubble we had established for ourselves.
So with that in mind, we traveled nearby 76th and Appleton and pulled up to Irie Palace, which is hard to miss. Large, bright blue and red panels span the front of the restaurant, located in a strip mall that also features an Asian grocery store, a Chinese carryout place and a nail salon.
None of us had ever been to Irie Palace (Cindi and Adam both selected it) before, so we didn’t know what to expect. The place was nearly deserted on a Friday night. No reservation necessary.
Or as Shannon put it:
The atmosphere at Irie was pretty harsh. The fluorescent lights were flickering, the paintings were by number and the curbside appeal wasn’t drawing in the masses.
When submitting our reviews for the blog, we all expressed varying degrees of disappointment in the decor. Adam wrote in last, and his thoughtful comment changed the way I felt about Irie Palace. He said:
I am probably the only person that enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. The flickering fluorescent light was a nice touch to go along with the group of gentlemen watching their obscure soccer match at a makeshift bar in the corner. I actually envisioned that we were at some local eatery in Jamaica, even though I have never been to such a place and have no basis for comparison. But in my mind, we would step outside into a humid, 80 degree night (that didn’t happen).
We each ordered a Red Stripe (except for baby Marilyn) and studied the menu. Many restaurants suffer from having far too many options and doing each of them only marginally well. Irie Palace has a manageable menu with a number of interesting options. Our server was kind and very responsive to our questions.
All the food was very reasonably priced and came with two sides.
Each entree also included a cabbage and plantains dish that came out before the rest of the meal. Though they are traditionally paired, I’d never had them together before. Both items were excellent, though, to me, they don’t really fit together. Cindi said:
I could eat a giant bowl of that cabbage.
Right around the time we finished the plantains and cabbage, our entrees began arriving.
Although our waitress warned me that my entree choice–Curry Shrimp–would take 15 minutes, it ended up being one of the first dishes that arrived.
The shrimp were bathed in curry and mixed in with veggies like onion, green pepper and broccoli. The curry was very savory, but didn’t pack the heat I had hoped for. I liked my dish, I didn’t love it. I was bummed out that part of the shell was still on each shrimp—not sure if that is traditional.
Most of us got red beans and rice for our side. Having just been in New Orleans and eating red beans and rice a number of times, I was really excited. However, this dish was fairly different than the ones I had enjoyed in the Big Easy, the rice was dry and the beans were whole. Still, it was a nice accompaniment to my dish.
Michelle found a solution, she said:
The rice was a little bland but tasted excellent when mixed with the curry sauce.
Shannon’s dish had a weird name, but she loved it. She said:
Since I wasn’t feeling the Cow Feet, I ordered the Brown Stew Chicken; a Jamaican classic marinated in special seasonings and spices, delicately browned and simmered to mouth-watering perfection. Since I ordered the small, it was $7.99. This dish was one of my favorite dishes on our ABCs excursion, coming in right behind Beta’s fried chicken (RIP). The chicken was so tender and the sauce was perfect.
I had several bites and completely agree, this was my favorite dish of the day. It was so juicy and succulent.
Michelle had a different type of chicken. She said:
I ordered the curried chicken, which I liked but could have–maybe–made at home.
Sadly, the dishes didn’t all arrive at the same time. There was probably about five minutes between the first dish and last. Not the end of the world, but not ideal either.
On the positive side, Cindi said:
Our service was great and the owner or manager stopped by to ask how everything was.
Cindi’s is the only dish I didn’t try. I am adventurous to a point, but my counterparts in this quest are much braver than I. She said:
I ordered curried goat which had a nice gamey flavor and a little spice. As with the rest of the dishes, you could tell that the goat was slowly cooked with a great balance of spices.
Adam and TJ both chose the Jerk Chicken. TJ said:
It was really tasty. Some bites packed a pretty hefty kick but mostly it wasn’t too spicy. The flavors and spices were plentiful.
I really enjoyed it. It was alternatively well-seasoned and fairly spicy, the perfect mix of both for me since I like spicy foods. Also, I take their word for it when they say it is cooked over an open flame. It was blackened just right and it tasted as if it had just come off the grill. I overindulged in some hot sauce that they had available so my entire meal had a good amount of heat. The meal as a whole left me satisfied to have tried a bit of culture that I hadn’t opened myself up to before.
Sadly, a part of the culture we did not get to indulge in was the Rum Cake dessert, which had to be ordered a day before.
Ratings for Irie Palace were, as follows:
Irie Palace cumulative rating: 6.2
In conclusion, I’m not sure we’ll go back to Irie Palace tomorrow, but there are a lot of positive things to say about the place. TJ said:
Put this place downtown and it would be twice as popular and twice as expensive. The interior could use a lot of work as a hospital cafeteria has more character but I think they stand behind their food as the showcase, not the atmosphere.
Someday I’ll get to Jamaica and compare authenticity, but Irie Palace has good food on it’s own merit. I would recommend it to someone looking to go off the beaten path.
Nightcap: Michelle and Nick’s
When Michelle and I bought our house, I asked her if I could smash a champagne bottle on the side. She responded, “the house is not a boat.”
But there is something to christening a new space. Better than wasting alcohol on the side of the house though, is enjoying it on the inside. For the first time, Michelle, our friends and I hung out at our house–in my little, finished basement “man cave.”
We drank shots of Cabo Wabo that Michelle and I purchased on our honeymoon and the Honey Whiskey that TJ and Shannon put on our deck the day we got the keys to the house.
We talked, we laughed, we christened this space and I knew what it was like to be in the state of Irie!
Visit Irie Palace online at www.iriepalace.net.
Losing nominations for ‘I’ were INdustri Cafe (Nick & TJ), Il Mito (Michelle) and Izumi’s (Shannon).
AJ Bombers: 6.8
Beta by Sabor: 7.9
Comet Cafe: 7
Eatery on Farwell: 6.2
Fajitas Grill: 5.25
Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub: 7.5
Irie Palace: 6.2
NEW FEATURE: WHERE ARE WE EATING NEXT?
One of these restaurants was selected for our next dinner … Which is it?