Fact: There are three kinds of feet on the menu at the Nag Champa Café, the new Jamaican joint in Fountain Square. Chicken foot soup, cowfoot and beans, and trotters and beans. We were relieved to find the latter dish is not some kind of super-laxative; trotters are pigs’ feet. Jamaicans appear to practice a cuisine of honorable scrappiness by making comfort food out of colonialism’s ghosts. This is food with Spanish, French and African influences.
A plate of steamed fish and okra join the Caribbean drink, sorrell, on a table at Nag Champa Café in Fountain Square.
Nadene and Parezi Alexis (she from Jamaica, he of Grenadian heritage) could have chosen Broad Ripple, or Philadelphia, for that matter, to offer their take on fine Caribbean coffees and cuisine. Citing Fountain Square’s family-friendly atmosphere, the Alexises migrated from Brooklyn, bought the space that held the former SonShine Christian Café (complete with a little stage that functions as mosh pit for toddlers) and cranked up the coffee roaster and the trotter pot. Alack, our server indicates that the kitchen has no trotters tonight. We opt for curried chicken, whose day-glo yellow sauce proves almost buttery, and more comforting than the East Indian version of this dish. Escoveitched (Spanish for “pickled”) fish turns out to be a spicy, soft tilapia filet with bones, flanked by carrots, peppers and cabbage in a pickled sauce. My husband chose jerk pork, ignoring my warning that you are what you eat, and gobbled down his pork bathed in a Caribbean sauce of cumin, cayenne and cinnamon. His only grumble was the smaller-than-expected portion. I choose roast yam with ackee and saltfish, which sounds adequately mysterious without being daunting. Our server said the yams were on the lam, but the dish held its own without them — a delicate hash of fish chunks, baked tomatoes and ackee a mild yellow fruit flesh with the texture of scrambled eggs. Each entree comes with dirty rice and red beans. One thing you won’t find on the menu is those fried Jamaican patties, so don’t blame Nag Champa for the Hoosier obesity epidemic. The health conscious can rest easy at Nag Champa. Then again, all bets were off once our smoothies arrived. The menu boasts a dazzling array of smoothies, punches, “teasers,” shakes, juices, coolers and nogs, in flavors like carrot, peanut, almond. The banana cocoa and berrylicious smoothies went down like melted ice cream. Nag Champa is also looking to quench the cappuccino thirst in Indianapolis with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. A patron at the counter claimed that this is the only local spot where you could get a decent double espresso (for the humble price of $1.85). The coffee drinker among us liked the mild flavor of her Americano. If our server was patient with me for having to ask what trotters are, we patrons must be equally patient with Nag Champa Café. One couple quietly left the restaurant with the news that stewed lamb was unavailable. For the café to survive, it’s true that consistent hours and fulfillable customer expectations are musts, achievable with a smaller menu and daily specials. Lilly employees and Fountain Square denizens also need to give Nag Champa a chance to get a firm footing — whether chicken, pig or cow.
Nag Champa Café 1063 Virginia Ave. 635-6005 Monday-Wednesday 8-7 Thursday-Friday 8-10 Saturday 10-10 Sunday 11-4. Food : 3 stars Atmosphere : 3 stars Service : 3 stars