Eat It, Damn It!

Reviews, raves, slams, and damns.

Jus’ Jerk

Jus Jerk Storefront
As is the case for many Jamaican dishes, my grandmother’s Jerk Pork is my gold standard. Sorry, but many places just can’t live up. Grandma comes correct with everything she cooks, so every establishment has a steep mountain to climb. Add to it, my grandfather would not eat pork, so when Grandma made Jerk Pork, it was especially for me.

Though Jerk Pork may seem like something every Jamaican place has, not so. If there is pork on the menu, Rastafari won’t eat there. Therefore, in a Jamaican neighborhood, though restaurants abound, you may not find pork on all the menus. When I found a place called Jus’ Jerk, I was intrigued. I thought to myself, “You put in right in your name. Your Jerk best be right.” It was also possible that they only served Jerk Chicken.

When I do find Jerk Pork on the menu, it’s always a mystery as to what I’ll get. What cut of pig will they use? Some make a chop, others use a shoulder. I’ve even seem some recipes that call for pork belly. How will it be prepared, slow and low in the oven, on a grill?

Jerk Pork
Here’s what Jus’ Jerk provides as a medium ($11). As with most places, I had the choice of white rice or rice and peas. This is a source of contention in my family. My mother believes that Curry Goat should be had with white rice, while Jerk should be served with rice and peas. She’s a nice woman, so try not to judge her too harshly for this lunacy. I think that rice and peas overwhelm the subtle, smokey flavor of jerk marinade.

Yes, “subtle”. Jerk should be complex, not just a mash of peppers and molasses. There should be heat, sweet, tang, and umami. The flavor and notes should be akin to good barbecue.

IT WAS INCREDIBLE! The meat fell apart when pushed with a fork. Smoke, spice, heat, and sweet were abundant. It was perfectly cooked. I was amazed. I finally found the Jerk I’ve been looking for (that’s not at my grandmother’s place).

They have three sauces to top your Jerk with, Mild, Medium, and Hot. I went with Medium. There was a little tingle on my lips after each bite, but not so much as to overwhelm the other flavors. The fluffy, well-cooked white rice went perfectly with my glorious meat.

On a second visit, I had to get this dish again. It was as I remembered. Amazing.

On another visit, it was a real struggle to try something else on the menu. However, faithful reader, I ventured into new territory. I got the Curry Goat (medium $11).

Curry Goat
You’ll notice in the Jerk Pork picture, the vegetables are the standard Jamaican cooked cabbage and carrots. When ordering, I got the usual question, “Ya’ want veg?” I said, “Yes.” When I ordered the Curry Goat, the guy behind the counter asked, “Hot or cold veg?” Huh? I’ve never heard this before. “Cold, please.”

Once again, I got cabbage and carrots, but this was very different and imparted an entirely different flavor to my entire meal. Though it looks like cold slaw, there is no mayo. It is a lightly pickled dish, sort of like cold slaw’s tarty cousin. It’s not so tart as to overwhelm anything, but just adds a little bite to the proceedings.

The rice and peas are really good. The texture is right and it has the proper coconut tinge that really good rice and peas possesses.

The Curry Goat is delicious, tender with just a little resistance. Though not the spiciest version of the dish I’ve had, the flavor was robust. More savory than hot, so even the most delicate of eaters will enjoy this dish. I highly recommend going with the cold veg.

Two for two. Dare I tempt fate. Yes, I dare.

Oxtail
This is the Oxtail (medium $11). Sadly, this was not the winner that the last two dishes were. The meat was a little on the tough side and the sauce was kind of boring. Granted, Jus’ Jerk charges much less for oxtail, but it does not entice me to try this again.

Though not everything was a winner, I have been and will be a customer of Jus’ Jerk for a long time to come. Their Jerk Pork is the bees’ knees. The Curry Goat is really good. Though the oxtail missed the mark, I would have no problem trying out other menu items.

Jus’ Jerk is mainly a take-out establishment, but there are a few tables available inside. Parking is abundant, but bring quarters for the meters. If you have a hankering for Jerk, this is a destination restaurant.

Jus’ Jerk
266 E 3rd Street
Mt. Vernon, NY 10553
914-560-4011
(Google Map)

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Fish N’ Ting

Fish N Ting Storefront
Beef prices have been in flux for awhile. Oxtail is becoming such a specialty item that it is going at higher prices than other cuts of beef. Soon, it will be listed as “Market Price” in many restaurants. I really enjoy my Jamaican oxtail, but if I’m going to be paying premium prices my meal better be on point. Accordingly, I’m wary about trying oxtail at any new restaurant.

I think Fish N’ Ting has been in existence for two years (maybe a bit more). They are in an area that is dominated by car repair and accessory sales. Nevertheless, the restaurant does not have that oil smell that many places next to auto shops can experience. The seating is ample and there is a nice little bar area. I noticed a little outdoor seating area that might be nice during the warmer seasons. Parking can be a little tough, so if there is rain in the forecast, keep your umbrella handy.

Oxtail
This is a medium with rice and peas and vegetables. This was a nice offering. The meat was tender. It wasn’t too fatty, but had just the right amount to keep the oxtails tender and moist. The sauce was rich and thick with a little tang of tomato. The rice and peas were fluffy and flavorful. The pea to rice ratio was just right. The vegetables were nothing special, the usual mix of cabbage and carrots.

A medium order was around $15 with tax. It was definitely worth it to satisfy my oxtail craving. While more expensive than other dishes, I did not mind paying the premium. They don’t skimp on the portions and everything was well prepared.

I stopped in on a few other occasions and had their Curry Goat (not pictured). Once again, the portions were generous, and the dish was well prepared. The goat was tender and well seasoned. Definitely a worthwhile option.

The staff is friendly and the service is quick. They are just off the Connor Street exit of I-95. If you are passing by, Give Fish N’ Ting a try.

Fish N’ Ting
4063 Boston Rd.
Bronx, NY 10466
718-881-6116
(Google Map)

The Original Pancake House

I needed to get my car battery checked on a Saturday. Taking in a vehicle on a Saturday afternoon is just a recipe for annoyance and impatience. It should not take long to check a battery, but of course, there is the “We’re swamped,” “I’ve only got 2 technicians,” “You didn’t make an appointment,” statements, that one understands, but doesn’t make the time go any quicker. I needed brunch.

I found The Original Pancake House in White Plains. It is a miniature chain in New York. The feel is decidedly casual, close to the vibe of their main competitor, IHOP. The space is pretty roomy, which is nice, and the high ceilings dissipate some of the chattering of nearby tables.

The menu is huge. I needed a few minutes to absorb it all. There are a plethora of pancakes, omlettes, sandwiches, specials, sides… It was a little overwhelming. However, due to my leg work beforehand, I was leaning towards omlette.

Vegetarian Omlette
The Vegetarian Omlette is gigantic. The fork in the picture is to give you a sense of scale. If you’ve ever held a foam football made for toddlers, you’ve got a good idea of the size of this eggy monster. It came complete with broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. Nothing was skimped on. This was a big, fluffy, overstuffed, behemoth of an omlette. Check out the innards.

Vegetarian Omlette Innards
It was very good. The eggs were not overcooked. The broccoli was not raw, which I love. The mushrooms were big and meaty. The cheddar was sharp and plentiful. I wholeheartedly recommend getting an omlette with your choice of innards. Omlettes were available with sausage, pulled pork, chorizo, peppers, and a ton of other stuff. Though the menu warns that dishes may take 20-30 minutes during peak operating hours, it is well worth the time.

I had an option of toast or pancakes. Wanting to try out the item this establishment uses in their namesake, I went with pancakes.

Buttermilk Pancakes
The pancakes are well cooked, but boring. First strange thing, the pancakes weren’t hot. I put some whipped butter on top, and it didn’t melt. Second, the syrup they use is really thin, practically watery. The pancake texture is good, but the flavor is just “blah”. I imagine that their pancakes might be good with a robust topping, but plain… not so much. This is not to say that I would try their pancakes again, but I’d probably get some sort of fruit and/or nut topping.

I will probably be returning to The Original Pancake House at some point in the future. I’m curious about their take on sandwiches. I will not be having plain pancakes again.

The Original Pancake House
277 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
914-358-1364
(Google Map)

Bodega on Central

Bodega Storefront
In Florida? Gotta’ get some Cuban food. Granted, MFG and I were in St. Petersburg, not Miami, so we may not have been in the ideal locale for Cuban cuisine. Nonetheless, we found Bodega on Central.

Bodega is a nice little lunch spot, but their seating is mostly outdoors. The menu is not huge, but what they do, they do nicely.

Cuban Sandwich
I opted for the Cuban Sandwich. It was very nice. Everything was in good proportion, from pork to ham, from pickles to cheese. The exterior was crisp, the interior was meaty and salty. A very nice rendition.

Ropa Vieja
MFG got the Ropa Vieja platter. It arrives in something that resembles an oversized Chinese take-out carton. Definitely more environment friendly than plastic. The portion is good. The meat was tasty, and the accompanying rice, black beans, and plantains make it a very good lunch option.

Sugar Cane Sprite Sugar Cane Coke
The soda selection features the cane sugar versions of soft drinks.

If you are in the St. Petersburg area and are willing to travel a little off the beaten path, Bodega is a nice option. There are some shops in the area, so you can do a bit of browsing before and after your meal. It is a little too far to walk from the waterfront area, but is only a few minutes away by car.

Bodega on Central
1120 Central Ave.
St Petersburg, FL 33705
727-623-0942
(Google Map)

Pepe’s Place

If you’ve watched the Food Network, you get the impression that a chef’s personality is reflected in their food. Granted, you usually see celebrity chefs making the meals that made them famous. Heck, they’re on the Food Network. If they weren’t emboldened by their success before being televised, they are certainly now ready to allow their identity to shine through in what they prepare. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to try out these dishes. Some of us are hampered by not living near their restaurants. Sometimes, the chefs have achieved such a level of fame that they’ve created mini-chains from which their personality has been diluted for the sake of easy preparation and mass consumption. Other times, their restaurants are just too damn expensive.

On my first visit to Pepe’s Place, I met Pepe himself. He is very warm and welcoming. As he would tell me on a later visit, “I like to think of my customers as clients.” Not a bad philosophy.

A side note: I never tip my hand that I’m writing a review. If I’m dining in, a camera does not get pulled out until my food arrives. If I am having take away, I wait until I get home to take any photos.

Pepe said, “I haven’t seen you here before.” He then brought out a little sampler platter. Right away, that spoke volumes. Here is a chef that is so proud of his food that he wants you to try out multiple dishes right away. Second, this is a business owner that is going out of the way to ensure that you see the diversity that his menu has to offer. All I could think to myself is, “Wow. I really hope this is good.” There’s nothing worse that liking the chef, but hating the meal.

Pepe’s sampler was very generous. It was three of his sides: Aged Reserve Cheddar Mac & Cheese ($4.00), Northern Soul Mustard Greens ($4.00), and Tahitian Vanilla Bean Yams ($4.00).

Here’s some pics of the full sides (Greens and Yams) from a later visit.
Mustard Greens
Vanilla Yams

The Mustard Greens are magical. They have a tartness that many associate with mustard greens, but there is also a sweet quality. While there is a little tang, it doesn’t quite taste like the usual vinegar tang that many associate with cooked southern greens. Though there is a tinge of bitterness, the tart and the sweet balance it out very nicely. Unlike the bitterness of Broccoli Rabe, which usually needs another dish to curb its edge, these greens only had a slight bitter flavor to contrast a sweetness. It’s a complex and meaty dish that is well worth ordering.

The yams are magical. Unlike candied yams, the sweetness of this dish is not cloying. I imagine that it is the vanilla that keeps the dish from turning into a desert-like side. The yams are cooked perfectly. This is a must order. The gluten intolerant have no reason to complain. Those watching carbs, “Suck it up.” These are delicious. Run in place while you eat them.

The mac & cheese is very good. If you like a standard mac & cheese, it would be a very nice dish. The cheese is sharp, but not overly so. If it sounds like I’m hedging, it is because I make plenty of mac & cheese at home. I usually use a blend of cheeses. Admittedly, that is not for everyone, but I am a big fan. If you like a standard mac & cheese, Pepe’s is a good option.

If you order two or three sides on their own, you will have a wonderful filling meal. Pepe certainly does not skimp. Even my sampler platter was filling me up.

Lamb over Rice
I went with the Moroccan Grilled Lamb Platter ($8.00). It is Pepe’s take on the Halal cart staple.

There is plenty of flavor in Pepe’s version. Comparing it to a standard Halal cart version is kind of like comparing a really good fast-food burger to a stakehouse burger. There is a richness and complexity of flavor to Pepe’s version. His rice is also quite good. The lamb is well cooked and the portion is generous. The white sauce is also good. It was a really good dinner version of the meal. It did not have the fast-food, greasy, salty flavor of a Halal cart version. Though it sounds like a diss on the Halal Cart version, I don’t mean it as one. If I’m drunk at 3am on a weekend, the Halal Cart version is perfect for cutting through all the booze in my stomach. Pepe’s is far more complex and refined. The only thing missing from Pepe’s version was hot sauce. Granted, I didn’t notice that until I was done, so it wasn’t really a glaring omission.

On my first visit, I also got to try out something else. Someone had phoned in an order of NY Buffalo Jumbo Shrimp ($15.00), but they had not come to pick it up. Pepe let me try. OMG!!! Wow! The shrimp is meaty and plump. The buffalo sauce is spicy and tangy, but not so hot as to overwhelm the seafood. It is a very popular dish on the menu and after one taste, there is no question as to why.

On my next visit, I got the Moroccan Grilled Lamb Gyro ($6.00).

Gyro
It’s nicely done, but there is nothing so bold as to make it a must order over the other dishes I’ve mentioned.

Pepe’s is a small place, mostly take away, but there is some seating available. As Pepe himself told me, the menu isn’t huge, but everything on it is a dish he makes with pride. There is nothing on the menu for the sake of having it on the menu. Pepe’s Place may not look like a destination restaurant, but it absolutely worth the trip.

Pepe’s Place
560 North Avenue
New Rochelle, NY 10801
914-632-7373
(Google Map)