The dish: Curry Chicken meal
Chains that adopt Jamaican recipes because they're popular rarely offer more than blackened this or jerked that. The kitchen sends out a burnt offering and covers its tracks with heat.
The curried chicken ($9.55) at Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill, a chain with locations throughout the northeast, achieves the tantalizing heat hues and spice spectrum of Jamaican dishes without burning a thing. It's like they know and love what they're doing in the Caribbean kitchen.
The dish combines curried chicken, red beans and rice, a warm chopped cabbage salad and fried plantains.
The runaway champion of this dish is the curry sauce. It hits the palate with an up-front buttery sensation that took me completely by surprise. A spicy and long-sustaining pepper heat grew at the finish. It felt bold and decadent. But notes of cinnamon and cumin kept it from being heavy-handed.
A sauce like this could make a sponge taste good, so Krust could have gotten away with a less fussy preparation of their chicken. Instead, their on-the-bone dark meat had a yielding consistency and texture that compares favorably to poached salmon. Impressive.
The red rice and beans alone were bland and uninspiring; but introduce the curry sauce — Golden Krust gives you more than enough — and the staple accompaniment becomes a meal in itself.
The plantains are sweet, fruity with a hint of savory from the frying pan. I'm not a plantain fan, but I relished these. Nearly as sweet, the boiled cabbage maintains a crunchy firmness. The kitchen tosses it with a couple spoonfuls of peas and diced carrots. It's a fine, simple, palate-cleansing salad.
Located in the H Mart-anchored complex at Rolling Road and Highway 40, Golden Krust has a long menu. But it's worth mentioning the namesake pastries. They're big on crust and light on filling — just sufficient to flavor the otherwise boringly average pastry.
On the upside, they're inexpensive, and one can go a long way toward satisfying an empty stomach. Throw in their portability and that you can have one in your hand a minute after you order it and the pastries become a lunchtime bargain that you can score for well under $2. The menu offers many more entrees and combos near $10.
The restaurant's seating is for the desperate: Four cheap tables and a long shelf for diners who don't mind standing while they lunch. But that's a description, not a complaint. While the indoor dining may not offer the most appealing setting, Golden Krust puts all the comfort in its menu.
Where: 838 N. Rolling Road, Catonsville
Contact: 410-719-2788, goldenkrustbakery.com
Lunch hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursay, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Lunch entrees: $.99-$12.99