Jamaican restaurants in Brooklyn are as numerous as goats on the Trelawny roads, but when Leadfoot Louie, my trusted guide to island cuisine, arrived late one morning because he'd been painting his brother's new restaurant, I paid attention. Louie, after all, tells me where to find the best breadfruit, reminds me when hog plums and guenips are in season, and can find Wray and Nephew 151 overproof 24-7. I was doubly intrigued because I know his brother-he'd been a driver at the same taxi base when I arrived in Brooklyn.
A few weeks later, we headed over for a look. Located in a no-man's-land between Dominican and Caribbean neighborhoods, hard by an auto repair shop, the restaurant is marked by a gleaming facade that testifies to Louie's diligence with a paintbrush. The bright blue-and-yellow awning proclaimed Blue Mountain Cafe and trumpeted the availability of such specialties as hard dough bread, oxtail, and stew steak. Inside, Marley was gettin' up and standin' up, the bulletproof glass of the pass-through had not yet yellowed, and patrons were forming a line. I placed my order for a small jerk chicken ($4) and escovitched fish dinner (market-priced, $8 that day), sat at one of the two pristine tables for eat-in dining, and watched two Jamaican ladies order a bag of spice buns to test the kitchen's mettle. Soon I received my chicken and was enjoying the thick, Scotch-bonnet?zapped, allspice- infused "gravy" that covered my smoke- flavored portion. I took the fish home for dinner to discover a monster plate of food complete with a coconut-flecked variant of rice and peas and a small iceberg-and-tomato salad. The unexpected addition of a hot mix of chopped cucumber, onion, and chile added a note of authenticity and made me think of the days following Hurricane Gilbert, when I was stranded in Kingston and learned to appreciate real Jamaican food.
The spot Louie had lovingly nicknamed Blue was attracting the family trade by the time I returned. Hurricane Floyd having nixed my plans for a fish encore, I settled for a brown-stewed chicken dinner ($5.50) and a large cup of beef soup ($3). The pan juices of the former, dark with browning and perfumed with the island scents of fresh thyme and a hint of allspice, made me glad I'd selected plain white rice as an accompaniment instead of the more complex rice and peas. I almost couldn't eat it, because while I was waiting, I'd noticed an oil-drum barbecue and a sign proclaiming roast corn ($1). I dote on this simple dish to the point of making U-turns on busy highways for it. Blue's corn was as tasty as any I remember, much tenderer than the jaw-breaking ears I've had in the Caribbean. So I maxed out on starch and had to save the generous portion of soup for later. Large pieces of flaky potato with chunks of toothsome beef sunk to the bottom of the dense broth that came complete with two huge chewy spinners for added bulk. There's not much to drink, only bottled sodas, so I'd like it if Blue could add some homemade sorrel or ginger beer to the menu. A few more chairs are also going to be a necessity real soon. But growing pains are inevitable with all newborns. Right now Louie is a proud godpapa, and he deserves to be.
Blue Mountain Cafe
1377-79 East New York Avenue (at Saratoga), 718-342-5850.
Open Monday to Saturday 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.
No credit cards.
Limited wheelchair access.
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