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There's plenty to love at One Love Cafe.

Byline: Bob Datz

COLUMN: DINING REVIEW

Sensory explosion or overload?

This is a question you'll have to answer for yourself at One Love Cafe next time you're cruising Main South in the mood for meat, seafood or vegan Jamaican fare.

Our party of two split on the issue, but I'm going to make my case for a welcome explosion. If you're ready for Jamaica, you're ready to take your time. Think Bob Marley's lyric, "Every little thing's gonna be alright."

Atmospherically, this is the real deal, from the essential Marley concert action painting to an eight-table dining area in a storefront that's no more than 9 feet across. Love your neighbors, because they're coming soon to an elbow near you.

The Saturday we sampled One Love, it filled steadily and the audible reggae was reduced to its bass line. It felt like a robust neighborhood diner as BYO-wine-toting guests bantered with a staff of three: two cooks and a server whose duties often overlapped. Not far from Clark U. and next to blues temple Gilrein's, there seem natural constituencies for the outflow from the rear-corner cookery.

So when I got up to request napkins and noticed no knife, I thought, "Casual? Oh, yeah." Apologies were generally offered when necessary, but none were needed for the food.

Cheaper than airfare to Montego, bammy at $3.95 was our shared appetizer. Lightly breaded casaba wedges in a wonderful red ginger dipping sauce imparted an ecstatic buzz. They tasted like potato wedges only lighter. Other available apps include codfish cakes, plantains and, yes, macaroni and cheese. (all $4).

Continue to expect the unexpected with the taste of the curry pumpkin soup. Neither potential frontman in this taste combo overwashed the other; the rich blend was stealthy, interesting and less spicy than what was to come.

Three soups were listed but only one was available, the first hint of a sort of Monty Python quality here. Dinners are listed with a choice of rice and peas, white rice and salad or steamed cabbage as accompaniments. But we never discussed the choice and received none of the above - the combination was rice and peas and salad. The diners close by were apologetically told they were out of white rice. There were a couple other "out-ofs" also mentioned among the main offerings.

The salad was mixed greens - fresh as can be - topped with a creamy mango dressing that had quite a bite. It drew a mixed verdict, my accomplice finding it disagreeably creamy while I simply surfed another taste sensation.

The menu has meat entrees such as jerk chicken ($10.95) and stewed oxtail ($12.95), seafood dinners such as curried coconut shrimp ($16.95) to steamed kingfish, grouper or red snapper ($12.95-market price). I didn't notice until viewing the takeout menu later the note: "Spice levels can be catered. Please specify."

But my iron gut was ready to try curried goat, an $11.95 plate of slow-cooked pieces in a rich brown sauce that reminded me of a low-key Cajun variety. The rice sopped up what the tender chunks couldn't wear. Beware of some obscured bone pieces.

My accomplice went vegan with curry tofu ($8.50). I found the simple chunks seemed to absorb so much of the curry that, again, the spice was not overstated. But it did have a more immediate effect on the tongue than my own dish did.

It was hard to clear the pallet with sturdy Jamaican ginger beer jerking the taste buds off the cartpath. The more cleansing, complimentary pitcher of water flavored by watermelon slices better served that purpose.

Taste enough for you? Nah - we had room to comfortably split chocolate cake for dessert. The piece was grand-sized, only moderately moist but pretty tasty with chipped chocolate clinging to the outside frosting. And despite other lapses, our server was thoughtful to warn of eggs used in the recipe, having served us one vegan dish.

All this left enough room for a walk under the stars on the beach that wasn't there. It also left a bill for two of $40 including beverages and taxes. Not at all bad for the trip we took, doncha think?

One Love Cafe

800 Main St., Worcester

* * *

Phone: (508) 753-8663

Hours: Noon-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday

Parking: On-street

Handicap-accessible: Sidewalk level but tight aisles

Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover

Prices: Low to moderate, entrees $8.50-$16

Pluses: Cuisine and atmosphere as exotic, fruity and earthy as all get-out.

Minuses: Some less-than-pampering oversights amid the humanity; some menu choices more theoretical than available.

About the Stars

Perfection: * * * *

Very Good: * * *

Good: * *

Below Par: *

Serious Flaws: No stars

Restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 17, 2009
Words:824
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