464 East 14th St., San Leandro | 510.553.9869 | website
My friend DebbieG so loves Jamaican food that she travelled from the city to my side of the Bay in order to sample the menu of chef Clive Barnes, a native of Kingston who opened up Sweet Fingers Jamaican restaurant in San Leandro last year. I picked her and her friend Julia up at Bart and we made a beeline for the restaurant where we hung out and enjoyed happy hour cocktails and $3 red stripes while we waited for a couple of other friends. The interior has no windows and is dominated by a bar along one wall which made it feel more like we were in a bar that serves food than inside of a restaurant. The walls are painted with the bold colors of the tropics and feature images of the Jamaican flag and there’s an undefinable feeling that you’re hanging out in a beach shack about it. But Sweet Fingers offers more than just good food, they have Open Mic nights, a DJ on Fridays dancehall Saturdays and occasional live reggae performances.
This is our fabulous server named Blondie. She was a one woman wonder, bartender, waitress, busperson… we loved her dearly she was just a doll!
We perused the menu while we waited for Elizabeth and Alma to arrive and decided to share an order of Jamaican Patties ($3) because we were starving. We asked if they were share-able and our very obliging server cut the patties up for us. At first glance they looked a big dodgy, but were surprisingly delicious. The flaky pastry was delicate with artfully molded edges and filled with a slightly gooey spicy beef mixture that was wonderful.
Jamaican food is a rich and spicy melange that has been influenced by the cuisines of Africa, Europe, Asia, India and South America. It is a lush fusion of incendiary spice rubs, flaming hot peppers and exotic aromas. I read that Chef Barnes’ specialties are jerk chicken, oxtails, and curry goat, so we had to order some of everything. Fortunately many of the dishes are available as half-orders so we were able to share a lot of different plates. One of my favorites dishes of the evening was the Sweet Finger’s Mama Mia Wings ($10). The chicken wings were baked in Chef Clive’s special sauce that was supposed to be sweet, but not overly so. It was savory and aromatic and chock full of vegetables, and came with a scoop of rice and beans and a few slices of golden fried plantains. Should have gotten a full order!
Jerk is a native Jamaican method of spicing and slowly cooking meat to preserve the juices and produce a unique, spicy flavor. The meats are dry-rubbed with a very hot spice mixture that usually contains scotch bonnet peppers, onions, garlic, thyme (and possibly any combination of allspice, ginger, and cinnamon). The jerked meat is then cooked over an outdoor pit lined with wood, usually from the pimento or wrapped in its leaves. So of course we had to try an order of the Jamaican-style Jerk Chicken ($10). There was a combination of light and dark meat that was very tender and in a spicy sauce that reminded me a bit of bbq…
Curry Goat (half order $10), was a bit gamey but very tender, slow cooked in a richly flavored spice-infused stew. It was good for sharing, but I wouldn’t want to eat an entire plate…
I could have had a full plate of the Oxtail ($10) to myself. The flesh fell off the bones and was swimming in an addictively spicy and mysterious sauce.
With the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, seafood is plentiful in Jamaican cuisine, but the Jamaican style Escovitch Fish ($16) was disappointingly bland. I expected the Jamaican version of the Spanish Escabéche to be bursting with flavor but it was clearly outshone by the oxtails and mamma mia sauce.
We thought we needed to order vegetables, but the Coconut Vegetable Splash ($14) seemed redundant with the scoop of rice and beans, and plantain slices.
We were too stuffed to think about dessert, which I read were produced offsite anyways. The good thing is that I scored a $50 restaurant.com coupon for the ridiculously low price of $4. The only restriction was that we purchase $100 worth of food, which was easy with a group of hungry girls. Including a generous and appropriate tip, it was $20 each, including drinks!
I found this quote on the website, which I think explains the name…
Sweet Fingers, Food So Sweet Them Lick Their Fingers!