Feb 19, 2021 | OPINION | By Hank Bedingfield

As COVID-19 drags on, and restaurants swing back and forth from open-to-closed, indoor-to-outdoor, COVID-ridden to “safe”, we’re all better off ordering take-out for the coming months.  Here’s my comprehensive guide to the most underrated, unsettling, hole-in-the-wall, food-poisoning inducing places in the Springs. Keep reading to find out where and where not to eat. I’ll show you where to get a cheap drink, where to get crippled — emotionally and digestively — and where to actually enjoy a nice meal from the safety of your couch.

Dainty’s Jamaican Kitchen

302 East Platte Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO

Lunch and Dinner

Closes at 7 p.m.

Closed Sunday and Monday

Moderate price

Rating: 3/5

With snow on the ground and temperatures below 20 degrees all week, there was no better time to take a mental vacation and desperately imagine the sound of waves, the coarse massage of sand, and the unique bliss of a cold drink on a sweaty day. So that’s the plan, a night of Jimmy Buffet, a Hawaiian shirt, and plenty of rum. Dainty’s Jamaican Kitchen is the only food to complete this escapist daydream.

The restaurant is little more than a kitchen and modest room — one register, two small tables, and a display case of sliced cake and assorted Jamaican treats.  The dining area is vibrant and lively, not from the chatter of elated patrons of clientele, but from a well curated display of Jamaican fanfare. Posters of Jamaica, draping string lights, and tiny flags plastered along the perimeter of the room get you half-way to a Caribbean fantasy, and you can almost feel the sun on your back, just standing there.

The kitchen is loud and bustling. Clicks and clangs mingle with urgent voices and upbeat music. The friendly, but tired matron speaks about each dish with pride and passion, forging a personal connection with any and every hungry customer; it’s clear she’s in charge and everyone knows it. I headed back to my car with a smile and a big steaming bag of Caribbean delights, full of renewed hope and hungry to have that hope validated for good.

The short half-mile trip back to campus was a genuine struggle of self-control. The smells quickly conquered my vehicle and I fought hard to keep the overeager saliva from drooling out of my mouth. Running up the stairs, ripping through styrofoam and plastic, I was a giddy child in the middle of a euphoric bender, a dreamer cut loose into a dream: Hungry beyond sense, driven to near mania by well-portioned rum-and-cokes and the urges of a reggae beat, I was set loose in my carefully laid trap, on a beach far away and free of the constricting monotony of an icy day in Colorado Springs.

Expectations high, everything to lose. In general, the food is all right, not totally disappointing but not as transportive as the day demands. The somewhat large menu leaves some room for navigating and, while the night at large hung squarely between deliciousness and mediocrity, there are some bites I’d definitely like to have again.

The patties served here capture that brutal dichotomy of Dainty’s better than anything. The beef patty was delicious — perfectly spicy, moist, and consistent, all you could ask for from a delicious snack. The chicken patty was, frankly, unsettling. The crust is still great — flaky, yellow, warm — but the inside is a different story. Little chunks of chicken, each with their own size, texture, and consistency, tease the gag reflex with every swallow, one bite too chewy, the other dry and choking. Stick to the beef; they’re not only risk-free, but completely enjoyable.

The Jerk Chicken Fries, far from authentic Jamaican fare, were greasy and delicious, filling the void of satisfaction perfectly, for all the wrong reasons. A bed of soft fries with jerk ranch, jerk chicken, and cubes of curd-like cheese, this guilty pleasure brought back memories of poutine, but electrified with unapologetic Jamaican flavor. These fries are anything but modest, zapping and zipping through the mouth with a kind of energy you’ll chase compulsively.

Just a word away from the success of the fries, the Jerk Chicken Sandwich is wholly regrettable. This is a sandwich too large to hold, too overstuffed to close, and too spicy to enjoy. Saturated in hot sauce and spicy mayo, the result is soggy bread driven to utter impotence. Even the chicken itself — rescued from a sea of sauce and the ship-like wreckage of lettuce and tomato — is beyond salvation. Stick to more classic entrees.

The real steal with the entrees is that each comes with two sides, ranging from Mac ‘n’ Cheese to fried plantains to egg rolls, a bargain no matter what you choose. And you can’t go wrong. The mac is classically cheesy, gooey, and hearty. The rice and beans, as well, are beyond complaint. Dainty’s knows how to do these staples well, and they’re safe picks to accompany any entree. The green beans and fried plantains are a little riskier. The green beans are cooked well, not too flimsy or hard, but harken memories of microwave dinners and have an unmistakable firm of grease which they appear to stew in. The fried plantains are good, but for anyone expecting a light, sweet, crispy bite, these will be a doughy disappointment.

Let’s talk Oxtail. Dainty’s boasts surviving the best oxtail in town — which I’m guessing puts them at the top of a very short list — so the pressure’s on. This dish was good, but each bite fluctuated with a scary agency of its own. On some, the meat had no loyalties to the bone and freely drifted off. A bite would be rich, saucy, and break down peacefully in the mouth with minimal effort. Other bites were fatty and stubborn, clinging to the bone then bouncing of bites and fork stabbings with a stubborn, rubbery quality.

The Curried Goat avoided even the occasional pitfall all together. The goat was tender and flavorful. There were no bites too tough or sinewy, no bites too spicy or over-seasoned. Every part of this entree was enjoyable and satisfying in a way few meals are.

Dainty’s Jamaican kitchen is good enough for a getaway, to break routines and habits, to give some real flavor to a boring night. It’s a menu worth exploring and the victories in that kitchen are well worth the occasional failure.

Keep dreaming of warmer days and let Dainty’s help you get there.

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