People, there’s no reason to ever eat crappy food on an airplane again. Front Page Jamaican Grille is less than 3 miles from LAX, so an extra 30 minutes and a short trip down Manchester is all that stands between you and a container full of curry goat or oxtails or jerk chicken with a side of rice and beans. Doesn’t that sound better than a soggy $8 turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic? I thought so.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch at Front Page Grille last weekend by an intrepid eater named Josie, whom I met the last time I visited Breed Street in Boyle Heights. She, Javier, Jessica and I met at the restaurant, just a counter and a few tables in a small space painted a dazzling green, tucked into a nondescript strip mall in Inglewood. It is, as Javier put it, like sitting inside a giant Jamaican flag.
We started with a couple appetizers. Vegetable patties, which were like savory handpies stuffed with spinach, are not made on the premises but produced in some other magical Jamaican patty location where the crusts are always flaky and the fillings never soggy. Festival bread was like an unsweetened, slightly dense donut hole, proof that fried dough is the right way to start any meal.
I had been 30 minutes late (navigating tip: Manchester Avenue is not the same as Manchester Boulevard, although the two do eventually meet), so by the time I arrived the others had already put in an order for the roasted perch, which takes 30-40 minutes to prepare. It is well worth the wait, even if you do spend most of the time driving up and down an abandoned block of Manchester Avenue wondering if the restaurant is behind a car wash maybe. Our foil-wrapped fish was brought to the table by John, the chef and co-owner, who has a smile as bright as his green-painted walls. The steaming fish was buried under a pile of chopped cabbage and peppers, totally unphotogenic but so good, the whole mess fragrant with jerk spices and tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. John says the roasted fish is a favorite among the ladies, but he doesn’t know why. Gentlemen, get on board. You’re missing out.
We loaded up our “plates” (actually opened-up takeout containers — it’s kind of awesome) with fish, rice and beans, sticky green okra pods and sweet slices of plantain. The jerk goat was coal-black with a wonderful chew and the oxtails fell apart with the tap of a plastic tine. Nothing was particularly spicy until topped with a little of the homemade hot sauce, a slurry of Scotch bonnet peppers that made my lips tingle. The plainness of the vegetables, boiled and only lightly seasoned, offered an occasional break from the complex spicing of the meats.
The drinks at Front Page Grille are as intriguing and authentic as the food. Pine ginger beer’s spicy bite was tempered by its subtle pineapple sweetness. Cran moss is a bizarre mix of cranberry juice and Irish moss, a.k.a. carrageen moss, a sort of seaweed that lends a slightly gelatinous texture that was certainly unique, but not exactly thirst-quenching. For that, I turned to my favorite of the day, the sorrel drink. Brewed from hibiscus flowers, it is basically like jamaica, but imagine the most perfect jamaica ever, one that is not tooth-achingly sweet but instead slightly tart, like a well-made lemonade. I could drink buckets of this.
We finished the meal with a couple slices of carrot cake — really more of a carrot pudding, dense with shredded carrots and barely sweet. When we told Pam, the other owner, that we liked it, she seemed baffled but pleased to hear someone enjoyed her husband’s latest creation. “He never tells me what he’s going to make,” she said. “He just tells me what it is when he’s done.”
The vibe is mellow, the music is good, the service is friendly and the whole place reminds you why LA is a great place to live — because if you don’t have time to pick up some cheap and authentic Jamaican food on the way out of town, you can always get it when you return. Just make sure your ride doesn’t mind taking a little detour on the way home from the airport.