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Cheap Eats

Spice is right at Flames II

(Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Ike DeLorenzo
Globe Correspondent / November 17, 2010

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Everyone knows that any place serving wings and beer within shouting distance of a college campus is bound to be a hit. The beer at Flames II is the expected (Red Stripe, others), but the jerk chicken wings, which are pepper-black with sauce, are extraordinary. Flames could have stopped right there. Thankfully, the Jamaican-owned restaurant is trying for more. Slow-cooked oxtails, codfish fritters, and escovitch kingfish are all here, with other favorites that manage to outshine even those wings.

Flames II (a spinoff of the Mattapan location; a third is in Grove Hall in Dorchester) sits amid a strip of single-story buildings in Brigham Circle, under an enormous sign filled with, well, flames. Inside, it’s an attractive and almost campy carnival of bamboo walls, Caribbean color, and flat-screen TV turned to sports (soccer and the NBA). Diners — often in scrubs from neighboring hospitals — line up cafeteria-style to pick from a dozen improbably good steam-table dishes. Many orders are take-out, but there’s a spacious dining area. A curt waitress provides full table service on weekend nights.

Oxtails (pictured) are slow-cooked at least six hours until the fat and broth become a thick brown gravy. Butter beans, pimiento, and “Caribbean spices’’ are added to produce a rich meaty meal. I tried on multiple visits to extract the list of those spices, but got only diversionary answers: “There is pepper,’’ “it’s a complete spice,’’ “they are Caribbean spices.’’ If I could make oxtails that good I probably wouldn’t divulge the recipe either.

The biggest surprise here is the curry goat. The lean, mild meat stands up to long slow-cooking that might render other meats too soft; it retains a firm but tender texture, and benefits from hours of simmering in light, spicy, Jamaican curry (no coconut, lots of pepper). Marvelous.

Flames II excels at slow-cooking. Various stewed-beef dishes, including “brown stew steak’’ and “brown stew beef,’’ are savory with perfectly tender meat and firm vegetables. I suspect most of the dishes leverage the same (or similar) mix of “Caribbean spices.’’ The restaurant does misfire. Fish is often overcooked to a point that even noble sauces cannot redeem. Fried plantains on some nights are perfect (soft with caramelized sugars), and on others, dry and starchy.

Be flexible. The “Yardman Platter’’ is an unpredictable assortment of all the appetizers. And on any given night, the kitchen may be out of up to a third of the entrees. But those they have are so good you end up not caring. And not to worry: The goat always seems to be available.

Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at ike@theideassection.com.

FLAMES II 746 Huntington Ave. (at Brigham Circle), Boston, 617-734-1911, www.flames caribbean.com.

Prices Appetizers $1.50-$7:25. Entrees $8.25-$15.25. Desserts $3-$3.75.

Hours Daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Liquor Wine and beer.

May we suggest Curry goat, oxtails, jerk chicken wings, brown stew beef