Grant Hill’s Island Spice: A little curried goat'll make a man of you

'Diego locals are gradually taking to the Jamaican specialty.

It’s one of those surprises you’ve got to work for.

Here I am walking down 28th Street from Broadway, past a sign that says “Grant Hill, a community of San Diego, America’s Finest City." Jes’ pause to look at a bumper sticker. “My Sister is in the U.S. Air Force.”

And then I notice it, up above the side of the canyon, a yellow and green and red sign.

Island Spice Jamaican Restaurant

6109 University Ave, City Heights

(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)

“Island Spice.”

Wow. Just what I need. I carry on through the underpass of what must be a Market Street bridge, and spot a rack of steps heading up to the road above.

At the top, thar she blows! Right over the road, protected by its own clump of tropical trees and palms, this terra cotta-colored eatery, with people sitting around umbrella tables outside.

So now I’m inside, among a crowd of customers talking with Caribbean accents. About “Jameeyaka,” and asking for things like jerk chicken, rasta fish, mannish water, goat curry.

Susan and Carol are the two ladies working the plank counter. They’re sending orders to Dave the cook at the stove right behind.

Most of the main dishes are $10. Not the cheapest, but when I see the pile of food you get, I realize this is gonna be a meal for two.

Jamaica table mat

Jamaica table mat

Order the curry goat. I’m interested ’cause I'm thinking it shows that Indian cuisine made it all the way to this island a couple of continents away.

I tell you, those sailing boat traders, they got around.

I ask for one of the Caribbean champagnes you see in places like Jamaica, or, say, El Salvador. It’s “Refresco Goya, Cola Champagne.” Costs $2. Kinda tastes champagny too.

Then Susan brings the big blue plate of goat curry. Man. Tons of meat and bones in a slurry mixed with potatoes and onions and other stuff. Ooh. The rich whiff of goat plus the nose-twitching curry. And beside that pile, a couple of long, golden slices of sweet fried plantain. And a clump of pinkish rice. And a mix of cabbage, spinach, corn and onions.

Whew. Take a deep breath and dive in.

Get talking with Dave about how he does it.

“I mix the curry into oil, heat that till it burns,” he says, "then I put in the seasoned goat…”

He shows me a packet of “Mannish Water, Ram Goat flavor.”

Dave with the pack of Mannish Water

Dave with the pack of Mannish Water

“Because ram goat is good for the man,” he says, like I should catch his drift. Oh, wow. Side benefits. So what they say about goat is true?

“Then I cook it down, adding habanero peppers, scallions, thyme, for about 30 minutes," Dave says, "add the potatoes, and that’s it.”

“West Indians love it almost as much as jerk chicken,” says Carol. “We’ve been open here 18 years, and gradually, more Americans are asking for it.”

I chomp, slowly, carefully, because you’ve got to watch for slivers of bone. The taste is a lot milder than an Indian-Indian curry, but that goat flavor grows on you. Like buffalo meat? Kinda. Definitely more pronounced than beef or chicken. And they say it’s better for you because the meat’s leaner.

Whatever, no way I can finish.

Call Carla.

“Sweetheart? Just found the ideal goat-to place…”

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