Boswell's Jamaican Grill
3521 Tulane Ave
New Orleans, LA 70119
Napoleon's Rating - **/*****
Before the Katrina levee failures, the original Boswell's on South Broad Street was a hub for local Caribbean culture in New Orleans, a place where island accents and flyers for other Jamaican-owned businesses proliferated. After three years, Boswell's reopened at a new address in roughly the same area. It's an inexpensive, unaffected and utterly satisfying place for powerfully spicy, authentic traditional Jamaican cooking.
Boswell's is housed in a plain metal building that previously was used as an auto supply shop. It doesn't look like much while passing by on Tulane Avenue and it can be tough to spot. Just keep your eyes peeled for the green, yellow and black Jamaican flag flying out front. Inside, there is a brightly lit, neat, spacious dining room without much character. A large plywood bar makes a good perch for the solo diner seeking a quick meal. There are often soccer games showing on the wall-mounted TV.
Service here is very casual. You may have to flag people down or bring your own check to the cash register yourself, but that comes with the territory. Most people eat from the buffet at lunch, which is as quick and satisfying as can be, but the kitchen fields orders from the menu quite swiftly too. You can get in and out of here in no time if a short lunch break is an issue.
The most popular first course, or mid-day snack, is the patty. These savory Jamaican pastries closely resemble Natchitoches meat pies. At Boswell's, the beef variety has a milder seasoning and the chicken version is a curry encased in the flaky dough.
Jerk chicken is the masterpiece of Boswell's kitchen, and it is the best version of this quintessential island dish that I've found in New Orleans. The meat, pounded tender, buzzes with the aromatic, earthy flavors of clove, ginger, allspice and cinnamon, and it can be positively ignited to spicy fury with a dose of Boswell's chunky, brown hot sauce provided on the side. Curries are also very good, and these West Indian-style gravies are quite similar to their Central Asian namesakes. Meanwhile, the roti is a soft, flat, tortilla-style bread stuffed with these curries. The goat curry has an awful lot of small bones to pick through, but delivers a rich, meaty stew. Avoid the ordinary fried seafood, but don't miss the red snapper escovitch, which uses a whole fish marinated in vinegar, pan-fried and covered with onions, carrots and bell peppers .
I consider Boswell's lunchtime buffet one of the great express, bargain meals in the city. For $8.50, you can walk in, load up a plate with jerk chicken, rice and peas and salad and eat your fill. There are usually two other types of chicken at the buffet besides the jerk, like curry chicken, stewed chicken or a chicken and potato soup, none of which suffer from the large-batch buffet format.
There is a very limited bar here, but it reliably stocks the Jamaican beers Dragon stout and Red Stripe. Ting, the uniquely refreshing grapefruit soda, helps soothe the hottest curries.
Not a strong suit here, but there are a few homey cakes waiting on the counter. With advance notice Boswell's will produce Jamaican black cake, a traditional rum-soaked fruit cake.
Whether you hit the $8.50 lunch buffet or order from the menu, Boswell's is a serious bargain. Few entrees breach the $15 mark, and all are loaded up in generous portions.
Fans of the old Boswell's should be happy to learn the food is as convincing and satisfying as ever, and those looking for a place to explore authentic Jamaican cooking should put this at the top of their lists. We don't have many true Caribbean restaurants in New Orleans, but Boswell's is our best.