For the past three years, Omar McKay accomplished the impossible: he lured diners into the old food court at Richmond Town Square (formerly Richmond Mall), home to such culinary trendsetters as Subway, Auntie Anne's Pretzels and Charley's Subs. He did so by preparing and selling some of the best Caribbean food around. His cheerfully named Irie Patties food stand dispensed heaping portions of satisfying Jamaican street foods like flaky spiced-beef patties, fiery jerk chicken and meaty braised oxtails.
The Jamaican native is trading in his food court setting for one with a little more ambiance. Next Friday, he will open his first brick-and-mortar shop. Irie Jamaican Kitchen (621 E. 185th St., 216-860-4805) sits on the border of Cleveland and Euclid, in a space most recently home to T.B. Hot Dogs.
“I think there’s a need for it,” he says. “It will be traditional but I’m also trying to create new connections. Sometimes people are a little skeptical about Jamaican food; they don’t want to try it. I want to try and make mine more attractive to what’s going on around here.”
McKay says that he first learned to cook from his mother, and then built upon that base by attending and graduating from Tri-C Culinary. The largely take-out shop will feature counter service with a handful of seats for dine-in customers. A larger kitchen will allow the chef to expand upon his core menu of traditional Island dishes. So, in addition to classics like curry goat, braised oxtails, chicken curry and fried plantains, Irie will offer more vegetarian items, salads and wraps.
“I’m going to try and stand out from the rest of them; make mine a little more unique,” he adds.
While technically not a new restaurant, Irie helps bolster a strong and growing collection of Jamaican eateries that includes Ocho Rios, Bratenahl Kitchen, International Restaurant, Taste of Jamaica, and Country Style Jamaican Restaurant.