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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For That Island Feel, Flock to the Painted Parrot

Colorful West Allis restaurant offers Caribbean flavors

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Recent years have not been kind to the area's few Caribbean-themed restaurants. Following the closures of Edgar's Calypso and the Good Life, there are none to be found in the city of Milwaukee. The Painted Parrot, however, remains alive and well in West Allis.

A fun interior helps the cause, as does the constant stream of reggae music. The Painted Parrot's walls feature murals of colorful Jamaican scenes. The front room offers a bar with a few tables. The restaurant also has another dining room and a covered outdoor space for warm-weather dining and year-round smoking.

The menu consists of casual fare like appetizers, sandwiches and Island entrees. Fridays offer a fish fry; Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays feature crab leg clusters for $19.95.

Authentic island cooking is frustratingly difficult to find in this country, so do not be surprised if more than a few compromises are made here. Ziggy Marley's jerk chicken sandwich ($8.95) is a grilled chicken breast with green pepper, lettuce and a slice of tomato. The "jerk" is merely a bit of hot sauce poured on the meat. True jerk involves a marinade of fresh herbs and Scotch bonnet peppers grilled on a wood fire. The jerk pork platter ($9.95) features pulled pork with a spice marinade that tastes entirely of allspice and offers little peppery heat. It is tasty enough, but it is not what one would hope to find in a roadside shack in Jamaica.

The presentation, on the other hand, definitely will put you in an Island mood. Multicolored plates come in hues as vibrant as a Haitian painting, and tiny paper parasols are placed over the entrees.

Platters include assorted steamed vegetables and a very simple rice pilaf. Other items tend to fare better. Scotch bonnet grilled fish may have a minimal amount of the ultra-spicy pepper, but you can choose between cod ($11.95) or grouper ($14.95). Island shrimp ($10.95) is billed as "spicy" and comes with a salsa that claims to be Jamaican. The salsa seems more Creole in nature, with tomato, green pepper and chunks of fresh pineapple. It may not be spicy, but simply request some bottled hot sauce to create your desired taste and you will enjoy a nice meal.

The big surprise is the Costa Rican curry platter ($10.95), which is spicier than anything else on the menu. It is a combination of boneless chicken and shrimp. With more evidence of hot pepper, the sauce tastes even more Jamaican than the jerk. This is the best item on the Island menu.

Fridays are always busy. The fish fry ($11.95) is brought to the table in an upside-down metal trash can lid that holds battered filets and fries and is placed on a table tripod. This is also how the "big ass" nachos are served (nachos come in a chicken, beef or vegetarian version). There's plenty of food to share.

The Painted Parrot is a great place to chill out, so ignore the minor flaws and relax. This is all about having a good time—sit back, have a beer and enjoy the reggae music.

Painted Parrot

8028 W. National Ave.

(414) 257-1012

$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, AX

Handicap Accessible