I am as surprised as anyone that it’s taken me this long to review Carican Flavors and I blame it on you.
Yeah, that’s right; I’m finally calling you out! How have you let me get away with not publishing a review of Carican Flavors for more than a year?! You’re falling down on the job and, frankly, I’m starting to wonder about your commitment to food! How many cheeseburgers have I reviewed and you said nothing while Carican Flavors continued to serve some of the finest Caribbean food in Oklahoma sans review?!
Sorry. Look, we all screw up sometimes and it’s unfair of me to jump all over you about this, but I get pretty worked up about Carican Flavors. It’s so good! And yet a lot of people still don’t know about it! Let’s fix that.
Before you start ordering, we need to talk about how to order. Carican Flavors is set up buffet style with a menu on the wall. You choose the size of the meal, what the main course is going to be and which side dishes you want.
It is, sadly, not all-you-can-eat. Unless you’re willing to do an all-you-can-pay, as well.
I cannot conceive of a world in which I would order a “mini-meal” at Carican Flavors, but if you’ve had your stomach stapled or are otherwise a food masochist of some sort, I guess you can get a smaller portion of these dishes. I’ve never been so full in my life that I would want less food from this restaurant. And, believe you me, I’ve been plenty full.
My every-time order is oxtail ($13.50 regular/$10 mini). If you’re not sure what oxtail is, well, it’s right there in the name.
This is the cow’s tail. The vertebrae are surrounded by a ring of extremely flavorful, exceedingly tough beef. Why? Because a cow’s tail never stops moving. It’s full of connective tissue and fat, but it’s not tender...unless it’s braised low and slow, like they do at Carican Flavors.
Oxtails are often used in making beef broth, because the flavorful bones give the jus a creamy, intensely flavorful quality. The meat you’re served here is still on the bone, but it doesn’t take much work to peel it away.
What you’re left with is the kind of meat you dream about finding in beef stew and beef broth that is begging to be slurped up, which is why I always order my oxtails with spinach rice. It’s a combination that simply can’t be beat.
If you’re not afraid of starching up, I must recommend that your second side dish be the macaroni and cheese. This is that sheet pan mac that is cut out in a cube. The cheese and starch from the noodles forms a creamy sauce on the interior, but the real prize is the layer of crispy burnt cheese on top of the noodles.
When you think about Caribbean food, you probably think about jerk chicken ($10.54 regular/$9 mini). Like so many other dishes, jerk chicken gets a bad rap for being “too spicy.” But the term “spicy” gets confused with “so hot it burns your mouth shut so you have to get all your nutrients intravenously for the remainder of your life.”
Not so with this jerked chicken. It is richly spiced, but not with an intent to scald your poor tongue. Instead, what you get is a sweet, herbaceous blend of flavors that sink deep into the ultra-tender chicken. The skin isn’t crispy, but it’s isn’t slimy either. It’s nice and taut, with a ton of that spice blend that’s been activated by the fat of the chicken.
For sides, consider another spicy-but-not-too-spicy accompaniment like red beans and rice. The starch of the rice and the creamy beans belie a slow-growing heat in the back of your throat, giving each bite a sense of urgent momentum.
I also really loved the black-eyed peas, which were extremely creamy, almost like an Indian dal. The flavor is earthy, of course, but feel free to hit it with hot sauce to give it a bit of levity.
The last entree we tried was the fried catfish with fries ($6.90). Unlike a lot of restaurant catfish, this is gently dredged in spiced and fried to order. This was incredible. You get a whole filet covered in a gorgeous crispy, crunchy crust. Inside the fish is moist and tastes clean — a perfect canvas for those warm spices to play on.
For a beverage, give the sorrell ($2.35) a try. This sweet tea is made from hibiscus, which gives it a vibrant red color and floral flavor. Careful, though — you’re liable to drink it all down before the meal is through and there are no free refills on this Jamaican delicacy.
One visit to Carican Flavors is all it will take to make you a fervent fan and advocate for this little, out-of-the-way eastside restaurant. This restaurant deserves to be packed full every day. Try it yourself and you’re sure to agree.