I hadn’t eaten curried goat since the bygone days of Hutch’s BBQ, which, for years, inhabited the odd brick house next to the Westin on Walnut.
Unabashedly Jamaican, the menu at Hutch’s hit all the notes from goat curry to jerk preps and soursop to sorrel juice. As far as I knew, their only competition in town came arguably from the Kingston Café on South Fair Oaks, where I dined once. The Kingston Café was an odd rambling space, which somehow managed to stay open a very long time without much local attention or noticeable business. My meal there was forgettable apparently. However, that curried goat at Hutch’s still hangs in my mind and haunts me as one of those tastes I might never recover again.
That is, until I revisited the Pasadena Fish Market on Orange Grove, just east of Raymond, in my own Northwest neighborhood. To be honest, I had stumbled in there about 10 years ago, shortly having moved to the neighborhood from Highland Park. The building looked much like it does now with the colorful mural spanning the eastern wall depicting a dreadlocked fisherman hauling in a leaping marlin with a rod and reel. The banner “You Buy, We Fry” initially hooked me. I recall a lightly stocked case of fresh fish on ice and that I had arrived too early for the lunch special. I left and filed the place in my mental local lunch list as a fish market (which it still is, by the way).
Regular attention to my neighborhood eateries focused rather acutely on purveyors of tacos, which distracted me for years from giving Pasadena Fish Market another try. In fact, it was not until the recent lists of local Black-owned restaurants began to evolve and circulate that I again paid attention.
Yes, you can still buy, and Pasadena Fish Market will still fry—fish, that is. That said, despite the clue of the dreadlocked fisherman on the mural, somehow I missed an anchor of Jamaican cuisine that tethers the menu and cooking here. With Hutch’s BBQ and the Kingston Café now long gone, Pasadena Fish Market is the only place serving authentic Jamaican fare in town.
Dropping in cold on a warm, random Monday afternoon, I peruse a bannered, handwritten menu before ordering the oyster po’boy sandwich ($7.50), a classic Jamaican beef patty ($2.75) and, of course, a large portion of curry goat ($12.95). There seems to be a lull as I order at the counter but as soon as I take a seat at the back wall, the phone rings and several customers arrive to pickup phone orders. The joint is jumping. A bit of advice: phone your order in ahead of your visit. Everything is made to order, and you can expect to wait 25 to 35 minutes once you order at the counter.
The front room is painted with the black, yellow and green stripes of the Jamaican flag, a refrigerated case holds a variety of exotic Jamaican soft drinks and sodas. A select array of Jamaican sauces, spices and condiments line shelves behind the counter. A large painted sign on the eastern wall proclaims: “Cleaned Chitterlings Sold All Year Round.” Though not listed on the menu, the kitchen will prepare them for you as well.
In addition to curried goat and chicken, there is a modest list of Jamaican classics on the menu, in lunch and dinner portions. These include jerk chicken ($10/$12.95), oxtails ($11/ $15.95) and brown stew chicken ($9/$10.95). Notable side dishes ($2.25/$3.25) include fried okra, rice and peas and plantain. [Note: Prices are taken from the printed menu and subject to change.] Don’t worry, all the usual soul food sides are here too: collards, yams, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese, and yay, hushpuppies.
The curried goat has depth, heft, an insistent curried heat and the requisite dance of bones that evokes memories of Hutch’s. The flaky crust pastry of the beef patty sported the tell-tale yellow tint of turmeric and the filling was familiar in its beefy richness. It’s the only menu item not made from scratch here, but rest assured of their authentic provenance. These are Golden Krust Bakery beef patties from the legendary New York-based Jamaican bakery. The sandwich? For me, the choice of bread was unfamiliar but really, throw fried oysters between two slices of anything and you’re having fun. Next time, I’ll skip the bread and order a dinner plate ($10.75) with sides. Lunch the next day (phoned ahead) included jerk chicken and a lunch portion of catfish strips ($5.75). The chicken was likely not flame-grilled, presumably oven-roasted and sauced. That said, the jerk sauce was complex and redolent with fire from Scotch Bonnet peppers. The curling fried catfish strips—like the oysters—are breaded in a well-seasoned cornmeal coating and fried perfectly. Any question of freshness can be answered by watching the occasional visits to the front fish counter from the chefs in back retrieving fresh filets from the ice.
Jamaican cuisine inhabits its own space in the landscape of Caribbean food culture. Straddling the influences of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic on one side and the eclectic splay of the West Indies on the other, Jamaican flavors and techniques are upbeat and spicy. The presence of the fiery Scotch Bonnet pepper is never far away. For hot pepper enthusiasts, compare the locally ubiquitous Jalapeno rated at 3,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville heat rating scale to the Scotch Bonnet at 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville Units. Pass the Red Stripe!
When I finally manage a quick chat by phone with owner and mastermind Clifford Douglas, he explains the Pasadena Fish Market has occupied the same location for over 40 years.
He took over the operation a mere 22 years ago. Hailing from St. Catherine, Jamaica, his entire family is engaged in the business. On the advent of the lockdown in March, they kept the business open but with some occasional adjustment of hours. He also confirmed that lunch traffic improved with the appearance of the Black-owned restaurant list that brought me here. A Jamaican gem hiding in plain sight, go to the Pasadena Fish Market for catfish, snapper and shrimp but don’t leave without some jerk chicken and goat curry.
Only in Pasadena!
Pasadena Fish Market
181 E. Orange Grove Boulevard, Pasadena