Jamaican groove meets state of mind at Red Stripes

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"I heard about this place in Afghanistan," a young man at a table told Red Stripes owner-chef Ezron Daley one night last month.

Stationed in Beaufort, the man had traveled to the corner of May River Road and Pin Oak Street, where Red Stripes Caribbean Cuisine & Lounge has been attracting a following since opening in 2012.

Daley and his wife, Lakesha, who met on Daufuskie Island when Ezron was recruited there from a pub he managed at Montego Bay in Jamaica in the 1990s, are seasoned veterans of Lowcountry restaurants from Sea Pines Country Club to Palmetto Bluff. "We each put 100 percent into the places where we worked," he said, "and my wife wanted to take that energy and put it into our own business."

The couple's five sons and a daughter sometimes assist, but mostly you will find Lakesha working the front and Ezron in the kitchen or behind the bar. With a covered porch and side patio, each with a few tables, Red Stripes looks and feels like a house on the inside - spare and spotless, with ceiling fans spinning and Bob Marley posters on the walls, a wood-burning fireplace and aquarium near the bar, and a separate room with a pool table.

Red Stripes' menu is inspired by dishes Daley learned to cook in Jamaica at his Cuban grandmother's side.

For appetizers, Plantain Nachos feature sliced plantains coated in spices and fried, $6.95, and also available with chicken, pork or shrimp for an additional charge. "This is the only place you can find that," said Daley of his grandmother's recipe. The Salt Fish & Tomato Salad, $8.95, combines flaky chunks of salted cod with heirloom cherry and sliced tomatoes, cucumber and onion in a light vinaigrette. Daufuskie Devil Crab, $8, is his wife's family recipe.

Among signature entrees, or nyamins, as they are called in Jamaica, Daley said oxtails, $13.95, is the most popular, followed by jerkchicken ($9.95 for dark meat, $10.95 for white) or pork, $11.95, and Caribbean Fried Chicken ($12.95 for dark, $13.95 for white). The chicken marinates for 12 hours before it is coated in a hand-mixed batter, deep fried, and seasoned with a special sauce.

All entrees are served with a choice of two sides.

The menu includes a quartet of vegan entrees, each $12.95, "with no animal products whatsoever," according to Daley, who makes his own tofu and uses coconut milk to thicken the stews.

Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, Happy Hour is 4-7 p.m., with live music on Thursdays. Call 843-757-8111.

Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.

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