Sweet Mama’s Island Cuisine is my kind of “Mom and Pop” restaurant, serving delicious authentic Caribbean goodness near Old Naples. It is across from Naples Community Hospital’s Wellness Center, next to Grouper and Chips. Sit by the big bay window, enjoy fresh cooked food, and watch the world go by.
Health conscious doctors, nurses, and Indian chiefs stop in for salads and Caribbean cooking, or take it home after exercising at the NCH state-of-the- art gym and pool. Locals, living within a 15 minute radius, can fill the parking spots on weekends. Those who’ve tasted Caribbean food, smile knowingly at first bite. First timers are pleasantly surprised after their first bite of Caribbean cuisine, and go for more! Caribbean food can be subtle, or, on request, spicier. The “default” is pleasantly mild. One can add some cayenne, or even habanero chile heat.
Trinidadians say a very good cook has a “sweet hand.” Owner/Chef Sheraz Khan is a feisty, “sweet” hands on, worldly chef. Caribbean raised, she's adept at many Caribbean food styles. She has trained in Italy as a Professional Chef, and knows the city by city nuances of Italian regions far better than most US “Italian” cooks even know USA regional cuisines, let alone authentic Italian cuisine.
Chef/Owner Sheraz Khan, visiting Brother Chef Paul, and Sister Shereen
Caribbean Cuisine is a blend of European, African, Asian and Indian influences- a fusion food honed over centuries. That’s long before “fusion” became the pet phrase of cocky cooks who claim to "carmelize meats," and can’t locate Rome, Paris, or Thailand on a map. She teaches global cuisines with humor and experience, to individuals or small groups. She is quite busy as a Naples caterer, offering different cuisines, and she’ll bake a cupcake to a wedding cake.
Sweet Mama's is homey, with about 30 seats and a dozen tables. There are paintings of Caribbean sunsets, and a smiling sun, cut from a 55 gallon steel drum, on pale island water walls. The golden cloth covered tables are decorated with attractive orange, yellow and red heliconia. The nice mix of reggae, rhythm and blues, and contemporary music is at a pleasantly low volume.
The $6.99 lunch specials often come with chips. Today’s specials are a true Philly Cheese steak (white cheese); Turkey Bacon Club Sandwich, and Jerk Chicken with Island Rice and Peas-all very generous portions.
My Jerk Chicken has very tender dark and white chicken with a true, rich and savory jerk sauce, as good as it gets. The properly moist rice and beans alone can be a tasty meal, with bits of red and green bell pepper and a delicious light seasoning! The bonus of sliced mango-sweet and without fiber, is a tropical delight. My lunch portion amply supplied two good eaters. “Jerk” is a traditional Jamaican grilling rub or marinade, with allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and garlic as key ingredients, and “secret” blends of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lime juice and soy sauce. Daily huge $6.99 specials include Monday-Jerk Chicken and Rice and Peas; Tuesday Island Macaroni Pie with fried Plantains; Weds-Sweet and Spicy Beef; thursday curry Chicken, and Friday-Island Style Fish Stew.
Adventuresome? Try an enjoyable “starter” of Florida Alligator bites ($8), as I did. It is a full size portion of bite sized gator nuggets, lightly dry flour battered, and perffectly fried, till crispy and tender.
The zesty sauce is has chunks of tomato, green bell pepper, onions, secret spices and a touch of cayenne. This beautiful presentation is highly recommended, and a great way to sample tender 'gator. Want a snack? There’s Chicken fingers (7), Coconut Shrimp (9), Onion Rings (2.50) and Mozzarella sticks with a rich marinara sauce (7).
For lighter fare, have a Garden Salad (5), with a choice of dressing-Ranch, honey mustard, blue cheese, Greek feta, Italian and balsamic vinegar. The Tropical Salad (6) has spring greens, fresh pineapple, fresh mango and cranraisins.
I had a slice of the quiche, bursting with creamy, cheese goodness- it’d pass muster at any French Restaurant! The crust is light and flaky. Quiche is a wonderful basic palette. At your home, you can then add caramelized onion, bacon, bell peppers, crab, salmon, sausage, chiles or asparagus-but please, just don't add all at once!
Bring the kids-there’s inexpensive Grilled cheese, Fish and Chips, Mac ‘n Cheese, milk and OJ. Gluten sensitive, or allergic to something? Sweet Mama’s is gluten friendly, and lactose, nut, and other special diets requirements can be met.
Many restaurant serve bread and butter with dinner; that’s just not Island style! Chef Sheraz offers a delicious Corn Casserole, or Island Macaroni Pie-with 3 cheeses and mild heat-this is not your Mama’s Mac and Cheese- this is a luscious comfort food delight, with an attitude.Dinner choices include Curry Chicken ($12), Creole Fish Stew (14), with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes simmered in a tangy tamarind jus, a Half Pound Garlic Pork Chop, pan fried (14), and Red Snapper Escoveitched-the Jamaican pan fried fish with pickled sauce, with plantain, red beans and rice (This is not “ceviche”; the word comes from the Spanish "escabèche", where cooked fish or meat is then marinated in vinegar or citrus ). Try Spiced Duck with a Tamarind sauce and red pepper jelly (19), and Jerk Lamb with Jerk Marinade and Guava Glaze (19).
Savor the unique tastes of the Caribbean, where French, Spanish, African and Asian cuisines join with tropical fruits, vegetables and spices. Say hi to Chef Sheraz. If good cooks have “a sweet hand”, she clearly has two!
Server Angie, and Chef Sheraz KhanSweet Mama’s Island Cuisine 336 9th Street North, Naples 331-8509
.NOTE: THIS IS LEFT FOR HISTORICAL INTEREST. THIS ORIGINAL SWEET MAMAS CLOSED ~3/2010, DUE TO PROBLEMS WITH THE LANDLORD, WHO WENT INTO FORECLOSURE. HE ALSO FORCED JANE'S RESTAURANT, A FEW DOORS DOWN, OUT OF BUSINESS A MONTH OR SO BEFORE. ALL THINGS HAPPEN FOR A REASON.
SWEET MAMA'S HAS REOPENED AT THE SITE OF MR. MOM'S ON THE EAST TRAIL, AND IS DOING BETTER THAN EVER!
THE FOOD AT SWEET MAMA'S IS GREAT, AND SHE'S FUN COMPANY-CHECK IT OUT!
ADDRESS- 3560 Tamiami Trail East 239-692-9441