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Food Feature: Defying the odds

Despite a move, Kool Runnings still serving up flavor, quality, ambiance

Let's just say," said the proprietor, wearing a slightly sly, mischievous grin, "that it is made from one of the more interesting parts of the cow." He was referring to cow cud soup, the soup of the day.
Yes, my dining companion and I are eating cow's cud and cow's foot and ox tails and sundry lowly, yet exotic fare, because we are at the newly relocated Kool Runnings, where life is good and the broth holding up the chicken soup is rich, rich, rich.
The thrilling news is that, thanks to tasteful readers like you, Kool Runnings — now not only "A Caribbean Experience" but also "The Jerk Center" — has moved across the road from its original location to a bigger, brighter space. And the original location, half of which was set aside for the serious purpose of selling fresh whole fish and the most interesting-looking vegetables, now is solely a market.
Any time a good restaurant makes any kind of change, but especially when it moves and becomes larger, its fans are filled with dread. More often than not, the fear is justified. I don't know why, but it seems that some chefs and owners cannot handle the increased traffic. The more food there is to be prepared, the lower the standards become.
But Kool Runnings always has defied the odds. It was the first ethnic restaurant in this part of the metro area. Now there are dozens, most of them slinging jerk chicken. None of them approaches Kool Runnings for flavor, quality and ambiance.
Credit the hands-on, on-premises owner for that. He is everywhere, and he is always selling — not food nor the ingredients, but the cuisine. He does that by visiting with his patrons, noting out the finer points of the fare.
Which is how we came to be discussing cow parts as we sat in the spacious, sunny dining room painted red, white, yellow and green.
If you ever want a culinary adventure, this is the place to start, with cow's foot and oxtails and curried goat. I say this not only because Kool Runnings makes all of these things as well as they can be made, but also because if you don't like them, you are bound to love the aromatic cabbage, steamed crisp-tender and sweet, that comes with it. Or the rice and peas (kidney beans, to Americans), with a dense, mealy, mouth-filling flavor.
Arrive at breakfast and you will find the traditional ackee (a Jamaican fruit) and codfish. Sometimes in the mornings there is callaloo (a soup of crab and greens), but I have never been lucky enough to sample it.
The traditional fare extends to jerk chicken, which you haven't really eaten until you have eaten it here. It is very, very hot. If you don't feel up to it, get the brown stewed chicken.
The real stars at Kool Runnings, however, are the fish dishes: snapper, sprats and king fish. Steamed, they are good as can be. But they also can be ordered stewed or escoveitched (marinated).
Oh, and the soups. If you want the glorious chicken soup — with potatoes and plantain, whole pieces of chicken and dense, chewy dumplings in various shapes — you must come on Monday. Tuesday is pepper pot (spicy meat and vegetables), Wed- nesday's specialty is fish soup, Thursday is the aforementioned cow cud soup, Friday is beef soup, Saturday is red pea soup.
Don't forget to buy a package of fat, tender ginger cakes on your way out. Better make that two; one package of four won't last the night.
__Kool Runnings, A Caribbean Experience, 4977 Memorial Drive, Stone Mountain, 404-508-0277. Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, open all night. Inexpensive. Credit cards. Dress: casual. Ambiance: cheerful and bright. Smoke-free environment. Wheelchair accessible. And don't forget the fresh fish and vegetable market across the road at the restaurant's original location, 4890 Memorial Drive.


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