You’re not supposed to linger at Caribbean Chicken & Fish. The cinder-block hut is tiny — so small there are only two tables, and even those don’t fit inside. So small that you can’t help but get cozy with your neighbors in the steamy cafeteria line.
But, oh, when I go to Delight Your Palate (that’s the joint’s alternate name, reserved for the devoted) I just want to stay, perched at one of those mismatched picnic tables out front.
The view is of weeds and railroad tracks, a gas station and a steady stream of jerk chicken pilgrims. The air is deliciously clouded by the bellowing barbecue out back. The food burns your fingers and tongue because you can’t help but gobble it fast. It’s an experience you can’t art direct, and I love it.
Of course, necessity means most folks take the food away. For Caribbean natives yearning for home in a plastic foam tray, that’s as it should be. This grub is pure comfort food — but almost always with an ample kick.
Top billing goes, of course, to the chicken, smoked over a carefully selected combo of hand-chopped woods. The results are transformative. Delicious, finely balanced smoke infuses every bite. The meat, even the white, is moist and so flavorful that the jerk and barbecue sauce that come on the side feel like an obligation.
Peppery and charred to a crunch, the chicken livens up mild sides like curry chickpeas and the soft and stewy green called callaloo. In the case of the curry goat, no invigorating is necessary. The tender, tasty meat may be sweet, but the curry is nicely aromatic and satisfying.
The saucy chickpeas, along with some yummy stewed chicken, also can be ordered in a roti — a flaky, pan-fried flatbread. The roti itself was the only disappointment during a recent visit. It tasted floury and flat, a vehicle to be tossed after the innards had been devoured.
If you have children with you, they will ask for a patty, or some chicken wings and plantains. You should say yes. The wings (we got lemon pepper) are as addictive as popcorn, crisp and salty and wonderfully messy. The patty is a luxurious handful — golden-orange, flaky and filled with a thin layer of sweet meat that’s more flavoring than star. The plantains are just the right amount — ripe, nicely charred and, like the wings, deep-fried but greaseless.
And, then, there’s the fish. There are many varieties on offer, but we let our server decide for us. That’s how we came into a whole snapper that was far too fine for its plastic foam nest. Coated in a delicate crust and drizzled with a hot dressing of chili oil and spicy, pickled veggies, the flaky fish was both mouth-searing and sweet.
Of all the happy surprises to be found in this unassuming joint, that elegant dish was the best.
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