Bear Bites: Tropical Flava
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Tropical Flava might sound like some curbside snowcone stand, but don’t let the name fool you; Tropical Flava is an authentic Jamaican restaurant serving an array of Caribbean food as good as it gets. Located on the corner of Ingleside and Corbin Avenues, it is an experience well worth the seven minute drive from Mercer University.
The Freshly Squeezed Juices
I went with a group of freshmen, and our wonderful experience started out with juice, of all things. The waiter informed us that we could sample all their fresh juices, and he brought a tray full of little plastic shot glasses with multiple colored drinks.
None of us expected to pay almost 6 dollars for a glass of juice.
“I was hesitant at first about the price of the juice, but once I tried a sample, I thought I just had to have this. It was worth the price,” said Mo Qureshi, a friend who accompanied us to dinner.
The pineapple juice had notes of mango and ginger, sweet and fruity, but balanced. The fruit punch had a mix of different fruit flavors. The cucumber juice was slightly unusual, but it was citrusy and refreshing. All the juices came in generous portions.
Oxtail might sound a little too far out for some, but it is actually the most tender part of the cow and a must-try at any Jamaican place.
“It, quite literally, fell off the bone,” said Adam Penland. On top of the tenderness, it was cooked in a hearty brown sauce.
“The sauce was amazing,” said Vikram Lokasundaram, with emphasis.
The Jerk Chicken
Perhaps the most iconic Jamaican dish, jerk chicken is an exotic yet approachable choice. What makes this dish so dang good is the spicy jerk sauce poured all over the chicken.
“When I took a bite of the jerk chicken, I was like, ‘This is pretty good.’ But when I dipped it in the jerk sauce, it changed my life,” Qureshi said.
Each entree comes with a side of either white rice or rice and beans, stir fry veggies, or two pieces of fried plantains, all of which are good. Scooping up the rice with some of the spare sauce at the bottom of the plate creates an incredible bite.
Each plate is served with huge portions to satisfy and careful decorating to impress. The plates have nice placement of meat and sides, but there is an added colored onion in the shape of a flower just to make each plate feel unique and special.
After eating so much food, it simply does not make sense to want dessert. Here is something else that does not make sense: how good the desserts are.
I ordered a Pina Colada Cake that was four layers of light and fluffy cake with vanilla icing, coconut shavings and pineapple compote.
After some of my friends tried my cake, they wanted something sweet of their own. Penland decided to order a sweet potato cheesecake, which was a spectacular dessert.
“The taste of sweet potato was not too overwhelming, and it was perfectly — it’s just so perfect, I don’t know what to add,” Penland said.
My friends were so impressed with those desserts, that James Smith had to order another. He and Lokasundaram split a triple chocolate cake with strawberry drizzle.
“The chocolate cake was a team effort and a team success. A heartstopper for sure — I had to take a few breaks, but in the end we won,” said Smith, sighing.
The servers paid just the right amount of attention without seeming intrusive. When they spoke, they were funny, down-to-earth and hospitable. We all enjoyed cutting up with both our waiter and the owner.
The meals are not too expensive; the non-seafood items are between 10 and 15 dollars. However, it is hard to escape from ordering a juice or a dessert or both.
Though they are expensive, the meals are certainly big enough to split, especially if you get a combination plate. They also offer a lunch menu, which has meals for under 10 dollars.
The Gratuity Charge
After spending so much money, I was displeased to discover that there is a gratuity charge for groups over only four people. Most other restaurants add this charge starting at parties over six. My only complaint is that this really disincentivizes me from going here with a larger group.
My trip to Tropical Flava stands out as one the best food experiences I have had in recent memory. It was more than just going out to eat; it was an authentic, enjoyable dining experience.
“It had a really homey feel. Authentic I would say. I’ve had lots of Caribbean dishes, and it stayed true to those flavors,” said the photographer of the evening, Peter Garcia.
If you’re looking to try something different, Tropical Flava is an exotic destination not too far from Mercer University.