Warren's Delphine Jamaican Restaurant is basic and designed for carry-out. There are five eat-in tables, with a tabletop design featuring happy space families, kin to the Jetsons. Even eat-in-ers are served on (or really, in) Styrofoam. The walls are bright yellow with stripes of black and green, a la the Jamaican flag. Four guys in dreads are immortalized in a wood carving.
It's the first restaurant for Delphine Drake and Tony Williams, mother and son, and Williams says they will offer samples to customers unfamiliar with Jamaican cuisine.
You order at the counter and grab your drink from a fridge that is well-stocked with what must be a nostalgia-fest of Jamaican soft drinks for the initiated (no alcohol): Kola Champagne, ginger beer, mango-carrot, sorrel-ginger, ginger-peppermint, Ting brand grapefruit soda, and DG Cream Soda from Kingston.
The menu is pretty extensive for such a modest place. The standards are there: jerk chicken, brown stew chicken, oxtail, curry chicken, and goat. So are jerk salmon, pork and shrimp, and escoveech and curry shrimp. For breakfast you can order saltfish with callaloo or the national dish, ackee and saltfish, which is salt cod and the bland ackee fruit sautéed with onion, tomatoes, thyme, scallions, and sweet and hot peppers. Williams says when the restaurant first opened in mid-September, it was mostly just Jamaicans who ordered this childhood memory, but that more U.S.-born customers have tried it since. Jerk chicken and oxtail remain the most requested dishes.
I generally like the oxtail best in a Caribbean restaurant because of its satisfying fattiness and the richness of the tailbone meat. Here, because your only utensil is a plastic fork, you must use your fingers to get at the juicy meat. Perhaps Delphine's cuisine is best suited for the privacy of home consumption.
Likewise for the brown stew chicken, which is just as bony. This is a many-step recipe that, if the internet is to be believed, can consist of just about anything but must include a browning sauce that starts with melted sugar. First the bird is marinated, then caramelized in the sauce, then the marinade is re-used to stew the meat and cooked down to a concentrated hot-sweet gravy. In the various stages, Williams uses onion, tomato, thyme, allspice, pimento, scallions, and Scotch bonnet peppers. He agreed with me that it sounded like a lot of work but "it's worth it," he says.
I was satisfied with my jerk chicken, with plenty of sweet-hot sauce. Maybe less so with the jerk salmon, because the fish itself was not the freshest. Both are served on red beans and rice, and the beans have that mysterious but wonderful caramel flavor that they seem to acquire only in a Jamaican restaurant (or in Jamaica, I suppose, where they are called "peas"). Red pea soup is thick and hearty with beef and potatoes.
The first bite of my curry shrimp tasted of coconut, a promising development — but the rest did not. It was still good but far more hot than sweet. Every dish comes with lots of good sautéed cabbage as a side, the cabbage pleasingly fatty.
Williams and Drake also offer a vegetarian "rasta stew" with pumpkin, white potato, and sweet potato.
At lunchtime, prices for three chicken dishes are a bargain, $8 or $9 for the bird and the sides.
Coco bread, which Williams says is something Jamaican kids eat for lunch along with a beef patty, is lightly toasted and lightly flavored with coconut. Plantains are bready and just slightly sweet.
For dessert, the owners make a nod to their U.S.-born customers and bring in a local person to make Southern-style peach and apple cobblers. Both are sizable and among the best of the genre — not overly soupy, fruit holding its shape, light dusting of cinnamon, thick crust. I'm not embarrassed to say I licked my plate — in the privacy of my home.
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