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One of the potted evergreens is dead and the other moribund outside the newly opened eatery on the corner of New York Avenue and Atlantic, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing growing. A chain is forging its first link. Island Cuisine, a Jamaican bakery-cum-eatery that debuted on Utica Avenue years ago, is thriving on a second site.
I’d not suspected this development when the bodega that formerly occupied the spot disappeared and a sign went up. I simply thought a wise soul had determined that the ka-thump ka-thump of the Long Island Railroad overhead would be muted quite effectively by the ka-chink ka-chink of the cash register as commuters desirous of breakfast porridge and luncheon plates piled with rice and peas found their bliss at the bottom of the steps of the Nostrand Avenue station. Island Cuisine is not an eatery designed for those who wish to stop and linger. It’s made for commuters on the run, folks who want to grab a bite or pick up an order to take home.
I first sampled the new locale’s fare in the takeout mode, snagging a plate of escovitched fish one night when I was too pooped to cook. Not expecting much and delighted to buy supper around the corner, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the spotless room, where the bakery displays were filled with multicultural offerings like Jamaican hard-dough bread and gissadas next to a serious loaf of whole wheat and some downhome peanut cakes. I was more pleased by the heaping plate that was filled to the brim with sweetish rice and peas mellowed with a hit of coconut milk and a tangy coleslaw of grater-cut cabbage interlaced with bits of carrot. Two thick kingfish steaks were the basis for the market-priced escovitch, which was topped not with the usual shards of carrot and bell pepper, but with a mess of crinkle-cut carrots and, for once, more than enough vinegar-infused onions. The heat was subtle not flagrant, and the whole enough for two meals and a small snack.
A spate of hot nights meant no cooking for me and I delighted in my new find, where a return trip snagged me a plate of falling-off-the-bone oxtails in a mild brown sauce with a hint of fresh thyme and more of the coconut-infused rice and peas ($6.50 small and $8 large). Another day’s quick lunch was a cup of soup, the usual broth rich with the sweetness of well-cooked carrots and thickened with gelatinous chicken feet ($3).
Finally, it was time to stop taking out and sit down. They were out of the barbecue chicken that I craved, so I settled for a small dinner of jerk ($6), grabbed a seat at one of the four tables, and watched the small group who lined up at the counter to be served. As I should have expected from the parent location’s performance, but didn’t, the chicken was truly meaty, not the hacked bones that are often fobbed off on the unsuspecting. Pungent with Scotch bonnet and thyme, it ignited just enough mouth burn to make me smile. I glanced up at the picture of Malcolm over the service area with the caption “By any means necessary.” He’d have loved the entrepreneurship—and the food as well.