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STATE OF MIND : Patty Pending

June 11, 1995|Ed Leibowitz

As Faith Morrell attempts to describe the Jamaican beef patty of her Kingston youth, the very tips of her fingers seem seized by succulent memory. Hovering over the red vinyl menu that dares tempt them with baser, though more readily attainable, culinary pleasures, they trace a ghostly half-moon outline of the vanished treat.

"What made them so good," Morrell rhapsodizes, "was that the meat was not just heat-hot but spicy, and the crust was very flaky. Those were the two key ingredients."

Bruce's Patties was the purveyor of this perfect product. In the Kingston of the early 1960s, Morrell's family, along with scores of others, would make a pilgrimage from the suburbs to the combination nightclub, bar, restaurant and bakery. In the back seat of her father's Zephyr, she would bite into the golden delicacy, spraying shards of crust across the carpet; sometimes the beef would ooze out, so hot it would scald the skin.

Alas, this bliss could not last. When Morrell was 11, the family abandoned the island for Hartford, Conn., eyeing a better economic future. Jamaica suffered its share of political and economic turmoil. "Castro and the prime minister of Jamaica were getting very, very close," Morrell remembers, "and a lot of people who had anything--money or brains or anything--fled to England, to America, to Canada."

In Hartford and New York, Morrell recalls, the burgeoning Jamaican expatriate communities supported "a ton of places" baking patties, though not to her nostalgic specifications. And once she relocated to Los Angeles, s he braved a patty terrain all the more barren.

This spring, Morrell took decisive action. The West Hills interior space planner placed an ad in The Times classified section, with the intention of opening a Jamaican patty stand herself. "If you know the recipe for or can make a spicy delectable beef patty comparable to those sold at Bruce's patties in 1960s Kingston," the ad implored, "please call Faith."

The ad elicited four responses. A sympathizer from a small island, perhaps St. Thomas, could offer Morrell no concrete intelligence, but simply commiserated and cheered her on. An American woman sent her a recipe lifted straight from a Jamaican cookbook. Another caller promised the blueprint for a patty her brother whips up back East, while a restaurant impresario suggested she launch a more expansive enterprise--carving a shrewd beef-patty niche into the exploding buck-a-cup java craze. "He thought I should try more of a coffeehouse atmosphere," Morrell reports. She's now awaiting his promised plan regarding market research, cost estimates and location suggestions.

Whatever the outcome, her pursuit will doubtless continue, her taste buds making do with remembrance of beef-pies past.

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