Restaurant Review - Bahamian beat

Evangeleen's, an island treat

Evangeleen's promises authentic Caribbean cuisine, and it delivers. Atlanta's ethnic cuisine is as regional as the native lands themselves, so we get great Chinese in Doraville and amazing Indian in Decatur; mouth-watering Caribbean up in Stone Mountain, and now Lilburn.

When most people think Caribbean, they think hot. Not only the sweltery island air and basking on the beach, but spicy hot — as in the food, mon. But there's a softer side to Caribbean. The mix of cuisine we get from our neighbors to the south includes fruits and other sweet flavors that complement the chilies and jerk seasoning. You don't have to wait for your next cruise to get a taste.

Live dinner music is offered Fridays and Saturdays at Evangeleen's, but maybe Saturday is a better choice. On Friday, an unaccompanied keyboard piped processed sounds over the speakers. On the patio out front, one table of diners moved away from the speaker as it blared steel drum sounds into their ears. We surreptitiously turned the speaker down so that we could hear ourselves. It's supposed to add authenticity, but it seems to drive diners away.

We sat down in our brightly painted outpost and began poring through the four-page menu. Entrees and appetizers are labeled by island so you get things like Antiguan Stuffed Mushrooms and Grenada Spice Island Delight.

We couldn't pass up the Salad Evangeleen's ($3.50), a collection of mixed greens, mango, avocado and jerked feta cheese with a passion fruit vinaigrette.

The dressing permeated the greens and perfectly complemented the smoky spices of the jerked feta, a great way to start a meal.

We also tried the Cuban Potato Crab Cakes ($4.95) and St. Kitts Corn Pancakes ($3.25). The three crab cakes were breaded but still meaty and were topped with a roasted garlic adobo glaze. The glaze was a little too like red-eye gravy and slightly eclipsed the flavor of the crab. A guava mayonnaise concoction would have been better. The corn pancakes were drizzled with peanut dipping sauce and papaya slaw — an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

Choosing was difficult because the menu offered more than a dozen meat entrees, all of which were tempting. Vegetarian choices are also available and include marinated tofu, a corn meal crepe, Evangeleen's Delight (soya meat marinated in ginger herb and spices with stir fried vegetables) and Rasta Pasta (tri-color rotini with roasted marinated vegetables and an herb cheese sauce).

I was intrigued by the Chicken Gone Banana's (though I couldn't slur the "n" correctly). The chicken ($9.95) is stuffed with plantains, spinach and cheese and served with a spicy tomato sauce. Unfortunately the sauce wasn't spicy and the chicken was a little tough, but the dish was still good and satisfying.

The other two entrees turned out much better. The jerked pork ($9.95) is served with pepper jelly and the chef's "hellfire" sauce. It's one of the best jerked dishes I've had in a while. Tenderloin of beef (one of the most expensive items on the menu at $15.95) was the top performer of the night. The beef is prepared with garlic prawns and caramelized onions and served with a passion jerk glaze and a cilantro citrus sauce. The passion jerk glaze and cilantro citrus sauce are what impressed me. The glaze has a hint of either cinnamon or nutmeg and sweetly accented the entire flavor of the meat. The juices of the steak mix with the glaze as sweet and delicate as a dessert. I'd return again for this dish alone.

Most entrees are served with a choice of roasted potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes or seasoned rice. The side of heavily whipped garlic mashed potatoes squirted from a pastry bag, replete with a fried plantain vertically rising high above the plate, was as great-tasting as it was great-looking. The roasted potatoes were not as spectacular. Luckily, a bit of mashed potatoes garnishes almost every entree. I was too busy with the meats to bother with the steamed broccoli that also accompanied the dishes, but it was fresh and not overdone. The rice is so-so.

For dessert we tried the pineapple chocolate cake and rice pudding. The pudding is served quite warm in a champagne flute topped with caramel and pecan praline. The rice grains were firm and intact and perhaps hadn't been rendered pulpy enough. The chocolate cake was light and spongy (supposedly made with pineapple juice in the batter) and the warm pineapple sauce on top was tasty. But overall, the ingredients don't fit together well, and a few bites went unfinished.

If you need a vacation from the mundane and don't have the money for a cruise you at least have the option of getting the next best thing at Evangeleen's: the food. And don't worry, mon, it won't break the bank.??