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Monthly Archives: December 2008

Saying Goodbye With Fried Food

waffle and chickenEmpanada Boy and I moved out of our Harlem apartment last week. It was our crazy sublessor and our tiny apartment, not the neighborhood we were eager to leave. In fact, we’ve enjoyed many things about getting to know Harlem. We were grateful to be there to witness history as Barack Obama was elected president. As we packed up to leave and emptied our refrigerator, we were also grateful for the excuse to eat some tasty fried food.

Fish and friesFried food was on the menu for both of our last two nights in Harlem. We tried to go back to Charles’s Southern Style Kitchen, but it was disturbingly closed on a Thursday night. We hoped it was just a sign that Charles was hard at work getting his new buffet ready. Instead, we walked down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. to Sam’s Fish Market. Sam’s is a small storefront with a walk-up counter where a single fry-cook (Sam, perhaps?) plunges pieces of whiting, porgies, catfish, shrimp and clams into the oily depths. On the recommendation of two old timers who came in before us, we tried the whiting (no bones!). EB got it with a thick slice of white bread, and I got it with French fries. After waiting patiently for Sam to prepare them, we carried our cardboard baskets back to our somewhat dismantled apartment. We doused the fried wedges with Louisiana hot sauce. The fish was moist, but the crust was too salty and didn’t have the lightness and crunch I was craving. It was, sadly, no replacement for Charles’s.

Fried Chicken with sidesWe spent our last night rearranging the furniture, scrubbing things clean and removing the last of our possessions from the apartment. It was after 10 pm by the time we were ready to drive out to Uncle Second Breakfast’s house in Brooklyn. On the way, we decided to stop off at a place that advertised the Southern traditional pairing of chicken and waffles. Little did we know, that place was Wells’s Famous Home of Chicken and Waffles. Wells has been around since 1938, although the original location closed down. It’s still run by Ms. Wells, and it’s credited with bringing fried chicken and waffles to New York.

EB ordered a fried leg quarter and a waffle. It came with Wells’s homemade strawberry butter, which looked a bit disgusting to me. The waffle was way too sweet for my taste, but the fried chicken was tasty. The crust was crisp and crumbly, and the dark meat melted in my mouth. Ms. Wells and friends know how to make fried chicken, but the crust still wasn’t quite as light, and the meat wasn’t quite as flavorful as Charles’s. In addition to the requisite fried chicken, I tried sides of candied yams and okra and corn. The yams were sugary and had too much cinnamon. (The traditional sweetness of soul food is obviously not always to my taste.) But I loved the corn and okra, which blended mellow and tart flavors into a delicious savory sauté. My dish came with an excellent homemade corn muffin made with coarse cornmeal. EB stole a big chunk of it, much to my chagrin. When we had cleaned our styrofoam plates, we said goodbye to Ms. Wells and headed out of Harlem. The restaurants of Washington Heights await our stomachs and this page!

Sam’s Fish Market
2528 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10039

Wells’s Famous Home of Chicken and Waffles
2453 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
New York, NY 10030

Wells' Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Best Thing to do with a Jerk: Eat It

Jerk ChickenA little more than a week ago, I was sunning myself on the beach on the north coast of Jamaica. I was there with Empanada Boy’s entire family to celebrate Tofutti Cutie and Popover’s 40th wedding anniversary. We stayed at the Beaches resort in the town of Boscobel. I had never stayed at an all-inclusive resort before, so the concept of a vacation solely devoted to swimming, eating, swimming and eating more took a little getting used to. It turned out to be supremely relaxing and a great way to spend time with the family. The downside was that a lot of the eating we did on the trip was typical, mass-produced resort food. But some of what we ate at the buffet and one of the lunch spots was authentic Jamaican cuisine, including ackee and saltfish, mackerel rundown, stewed cabbage, patties, festivals (fried dough), curried chicken and, of course, jerk chicken.

Jerk, Jamaican-style barbecue is undoubtedly the country’s most important contribution to world cuisine. It involves marinading meat overnight and rubbing it with a blend of allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme and garlic. It is then slowly barbecued over charcoal or aromatic wood like allspice. The resulting product is deeply browned from spice and completely imbued with flavor.

Jerk CentreOur introduction to true Jamaican jerk actually came on the way to the resort. We were riding in a mini-bus that had picked us up at the airport in Montego Bay. Our rest stop had a wing that was labeled “Jerk Centre.” (I thought this was a unique name until I noticed “Jerk Centres” at nearly every other rest stop down the road.) We ordered and paid at a counter inside the building. The choices were jerk chicken or jerk pork. EB and I ordered the chicken because we figured we couldn’t go wrong. The woman there gave us a ticket to hand to the jerk master manning the grill outside. He then selected a chicken or some pork from the grill and turned it to make sure it was done to satisfaction. When he was happy with the looks of it, he pulled it off the grill, put it onto a cutting board and hacked it into manageable pieces with a cleaver. Into a cardboard container it went, along with a douse of sauce and a slice of airy white bread to soak it up.

CleaverI was glad we selected the chicken, which was moist (the pork was a little dry) and wildly flavorful under the cloud of spices. It had just the right degree of heat, maintaining a constant, faint burn in the back of our mouths. We took it out to the back patio with a nice view of the very blue ocean to eat. This was a great welcome to the country, and it gave us a quality benchmark by which to judge the jerk we tasted over the rest of the trip. Surprisingly, the jerk chicken at one of the resort restaurants was pretty much equal to the jerk we tried on that first day. It was one of the best meals we tried during our stay. Perhaps people who go through the extended jerk-making process are already committing to a certain standard of quality.

Fried chicken platterChicken is obviously the primary protein in Jamaica. The country is very poor, and raising chickens seems to be the most economical way to get meat. EB, Cerealla (formerly Sushi Sister), Croque Monsieur and I left the resort one time and walked about three miles to the nearby town of Oracabessa. We stopped into a small restaurant on the side of the road and tried another Jamaican chicken preparation. The menu of the day was fried chicken, rice and a mayonnaise-y macaroni salad. Cerealla and Croque Monsieur each ordered a plate, and EB and I sampled bites of theirs. The food was generally hearty and satisfying. The chicken was particularly good with a crackly shell and a moist, tender interior. The batter tasted a little different from Southern-style fried chicken, perhaps a little lighter, although it was hard to put my finger on the difference.

During that same excursion, we went into a grocery store. The store was filled with condiments, spices, drinks and candy. There was no produce section, no meat section and no fish section. Further down the street a set of covered produce stands run by local women had some greens and vegetables. A man with a fruit stand had plantains, papayas and coconuts. There was still no meat or fish. The only conclusion I could come to was that the Jamaican people— who are desperately poor, for the most part— must grow many of their own fruits and vegetables or buy them from their neighbors. Many houses likely have chickens that are occasionally killed, which is probably supplemented from time to time by a meat shipment from a larger city. And whatever fish is eaten undoubtedly comes straight from the sea.

Jerk Centre and Local Town Restaurant
On the road from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios and on the main street of Oracabessa
Jamaica, W.I.