Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine has an eclectic mix of Jamaican-inspired dishes on the menu.
Writer: Karla Walsh
“I wanted to transport people to a happy place in the sun, like where I was born—Africa, or where my uncle is from, Jamaica—hence the name ‘Palm’s.’ Iowa has four seasons, and during the winter, it sure would be nice somewhere that has palm trees,” says Amara Sama, the cook and co-owner, along with his wife, Dionne Sama, of Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine.
It sure would be nice now that we’re not traveling as much to get a taste of a different land. With Palm’s, which the Samas launched this year after ending their business partnership that included the farmers market-based brand Rootz, they aim to fuse the cuisine of Liberia and Jamaica in one made-from-scratch package. Amara’s family moved to Iowa when he was 4, and he grew up on a steady diet of Liberian food cooked by his stepmom and Jamaican fare from his uncle’s kitchen.
“We’re bringing the two cultures together. The Palm’s menu is about 90% Jamaican, and rich in herbs and spices, with a little Liberian in the mix,” Sama says, pointing to the top-selling side of jollof rice as an example of a traditional Liberian recipe.
You can get a taste by following Palm’s Carribean Cuisine on Facebook or check out palmscaribbeandsm.com, where the Samas post their latest menus and pre-order options for Saturday pick up (available twice each month) at their commercial kitchen in the Mickle Center (1620 Pleasant St.). They also cater for groups of 10 to 150 and plan to share their fare at festivals, farmers markets and other large gatherings once those are back on the calendar.
On the usual pick-up menu, $20 pre-order meals for two come with one entree, two sides and two Jamaican beef patties, while $40 meals for four to six include two entrees, two sides and four beef patties. So what does Sama recommend first-timers try?
“The Jamaican jerk chicken has a slight kick and is one of the most popular,” he says. “It’s how my uncle made it. We bake the Coconut Candied Yams for at least two hours in coconut milk, and they’re a nice complement to the spicy chicken.”
As for the future of the Palm’s, Sama would love to see it grow into a brick and mortar restaurant.
“This type of food is not the norm, so we’re really focusing on building a following. I want people [to get] used to our flavors and then [we’ll] eventually open a restaurant,” he says. “No matter what color or gender you are, food is a universal magnet to bring people together and allow them to connect.”