wireless_kitchen (2006-43)

Must Be From Nashville

Calypso Café is making its way in Knoxville

Couva Calypso Café • 7805 Montvue Center Way, 670-1444 • 10901 Parkside Drive, 671-2961

I’ve had food from Calypso Café several times, but I’ve only dined on the premises once. I suspect I’m not alone. The restaurant was voted “Best Take-Out” by readers of the alt-weekly Nashville Scene and reserves two prime parking spots for patrons making quick pick-ups.

And pick-up is quick. When I phoned in my last order, I was told it would be ready in six or seven minutes.

One specialty is rotisserie chicken, available in quarter, half or whole portions. Of the two I’ve tried, I preferred the jerk (which is not as “hot” as the menu indicates) to the barbecued. Both times, the chicken was moist and tender with crispy, flavorful skin. On my next trip, I’ll try the Jamaican curried chicken, which has a mild sauce made with apples, onions and spices.

The menu lists a number of salads: black bean, chicken and veggies, tropical chicken salad and lite tuna salad. I tried the Lucayan Salad. A mound of very fresh leaf lettuce was topped with two large pieces of moist marinated chicken breasts along with generous portions of mandarin oranges and toasted almond slices. The accompanying house vinaigrette was light and zingy.

Sandwich options include a chicken breast, pulled barbecue chicken, veggie pita, veggie melt and tropical chicken salad along with an island burger and a Boca burger. The Boca burger, a vegan item, which comes in pita, topped with lettuce and red onions with barbecue sauce on the side, was one of the best I’ve had. It’s easy to dry out a Boca burger because these require only a short cooking time, but this burger was cooked exactly right. The island burger, served on a wheat bun with pieces of leaf lettuce and chopped red onions, was pretty good. The barbecue sauce, served on the side, was left out of my take-out order, so my first bites were blander than expected. After I added a little barbecue sauce from my refrigerator, the taste greatly improved. You don’t need much sauce because the meat is moist and well seasoned, but without a little sauce the burger is lacking.

The veggie melt, which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, cucumbers, sprouts and red onions served on a bun, was tasty. The veggie pita is the same combination stuffed in pita bread, so I imagine it’s just as good. I’m looking forward to trying the pulled barbecue chicken sandwich, partly because the menu suggests topping it with Native Cole Slaw. I like slaw on hot sandwiches and burgers, and I especially like it on a barbecue sandwich. Something about the mix of textures, flavors and temperatures appeals to me. The slaw is my least favorite of Calypso Café’s side dishes, but I think it’d be great atop some spicy, saucy pulled chicken barbecue.

Most entrees come with at least one side item; some, such as rotisserie chicken come with two. The black beans are fabulous—though I prefer to order them with red onions but no sour cream. The beans are good mixed with the St. Lucian Rice, which is a seasoned blend of wild and long grain rice. My favorite side dish is the Martinique Callaloo, savory mustard greens, tomatoes and onions. If you like greens, you’ll love these. The sweet potatoes are mashed, slightly sweetened and topped with toasted coconut.  The coleslaw wasn’t bad, but I expected something a little more special. I do think it’d be a great condiment to the barbecue chicken sandwich described above, but as a side dish, I don’t recommend it unless you don’t like greens, black beans, rice or sweet potatoes, all of which are exceptional.

I didn’t expect to like the Boija muffins, sweet cornbread topped with coconut, because they looked too sweet and gooey for my taste, but to my surprise, they weren’t as overly sweet as they looked. My one taste in the interest of research turned onto several more bites. On the agenda for a future visit is the bean and corn salad, which combines garbanzo beans, kidney beans, corn and black-eyed peas in a cilantro vinaigrette.

Prices are reasonable, and there are quite a few vegetarian options. In addition to individual orders for take-out, Calypso Café offers items in family and crowd sizes. For example, the “Family Special,” priced at $14.99, includes a whole chicken and six servings of side items.

The take-out option has been my favorite so far, but if you prefer to dine in, the café has vibrant, casual charm: brightly colored fuchsia and lime colored walls, servers wearing tie-dyed t-shirts, and lively Caribbean music. Beer and sangria are served along with teas, coffees, soft drinks—and even hot chocolate, October through March.

Couva Calypso Café has not yet gained the same recognition in Knoxville as it has in Nashville, where the restaurant originated, but this should change as more people find and try the place. Business at the Montvue Center location has no doubt been affected by road construction projects in the area. Tip: Enter from North Winston Road until construction is completed.