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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Boston Jerk City Restaurant

Boston Jerk City – or as I like to call it, BJ City – seems an odd name. The words make sense individually, but less so when paired before “Restaurant.” Does Jamaica have a Boston? Or are the owners Yankees fans? Either way, BJ's was rumored to serve some of Brooklyn's Finest Jerk. So in pursuit of truth, justice and wondrous Grilled Meat, The Porkchop Express headed down Utica to do a little firsthand Q&Eat of our own.
I half-hoped to find some guy named “Sully” with a Sox hat slinging wicked assome chicken. No such luck. Or rather, luckily no: BJ City is all Jamaican. The name refers to a Beach/Bay in the island's northeastern Portland Parish, an old launching point for New England banana runners (19th cent. forebears of Del Monte). More to the point, many consider this area the birthplace and capital of Jerk. Boston holds an annual Jerk Festival, and they make the world's tastiest Jerk Pork. Calling yourself Boston Jerk is therefore no laughing matter. Like Louisiana Po' Boy or Verra Pizza Napolitano, the name implies only the highest standards of flavor and authenticity.
Marvin Hitchman ...
... with the Correct Technique

So how does BJ City measure up? From the outside everything looked spot-on. And by “everything” I mean one thing: a large, smoldering, swine-fish-and-fowl-Jerking, battle-worn iron drum manned by Marvin Hitchman. Owner Hubert Lawton's nephew, Marvin teaches food and nutrition to middle schoolers in-between cooking some serious jerk. On vacation from Jamaica for the summer, his skills were on full display: tossing in lumps of Royal Oak wood charcoal, splashing water to regulate heat and smoke, waiting for that distinctive whiff of charred pimento to pull meat from the grill... Yes good reader, Cool Marv had Jerk Wisdom beyond his years. As for the finished product...
Jerk Chicken
Jerk Pork
... and Jerk Salmon, with Mac & Cheese

Of the trio we tried, Jerk Chicken was the consensus favorite: uniformly moist and tender, it took best to the thin, peppery homemade sauce. The Jerk Pork (sadly rare in these parts) was, alas, slightly uneven. Don't get me wrong, the combo itself has epic flavor potential. But BJ's finished product was inconsistent: at best, wonderfully soft, fatty chunks of smoky, spicy shoulder; at worst, dry salty cubes that left us lamenting what could have been. The Jerk Salmon was also mixed: exceptionally well-cooked (not at all dry, despite those deep char marks) yet overwhelmed by the marinade.
Bammy goes better with fish!

Don't let the uneven salting scare you off tho. Just head for the counter and order a few more fried half-moons of ground casava a/k/a Bammy. Consensus holds that nothing goes better with fish, and (without going so far) I can see the logic. BJ's Bammy has a nice, neutral flavor and fresh, chewy texture. It's light enough to pair with seafood, and great for soaking up any accompanying sauces. (Plus, it's really fun to say out loud. Bammy Bammy Bammy.)
everyone loves Festival!

Another don't-miss whammy: Jamaica's golden-fried cornmeal-and-flour donut, the festival. I'll go out on a limb and guess the name is descriptive (as in party... in the mouth). But fear not, these long Island dumplings aren't just a pretty face... they also go something lovely with the Jerk Pork. Festival's chewy sweetness really brings out the meat's spicing. Plus, it reminded me of a great churro I had down in Mexico (both had a healthy dose of cinnamon). All said, it was a match made in fried dough & pork heaven.One last treat: an unusually creamy Carrot Juice. Come to think of it, Carrot Shake is more accurate. This thick, aromatic elixir is blended with milk, and spiked with vanilla and nutmeg. And, considering BJ City doesn't serve desert, it's also the perfect way to end a meal.
Claudette Lawton, talking Bammy in the dining room

Afterwards I talked a little island history with co-owner Claudette Lawton. She described growing up in Clarendon, watching her grandparents cook. When they made Jerk the smoking grill sent out fair warning to the neighbors that something delicious was afoot. As Claudette put it, it wasn't long before “the whole neighborhood came by.” So how did her grandparents react? “Share, share share 'til you have no more!” This was the generous spirit (along with the authentic recipe) the Lawtons exported to Brooklyn back in 1986, and the formula paid off. They've been a neighborhood fixture ever since.
Neighbors with Flavor: jerking around at the hair salon next door

Which is a good thing. BJ City may not have blown us away, but it's a welcomed (and welcoming) addition to the local Caribbean landscape. So trek on down to Utica and see for yourself, good reader. Break Bammy! Mouth Festival! Jerk the Meat! One sight of that smoking grill, and you'll know all this and more lies in store.

Boston Jerk City Restaurant
1344 Utica Ave, East Flatbush, Brooklyn
(718) 629-3002

Note: I've given up trying to figure out what time Brooklyn Caribbean restaurants open and close; just call ahead.

Jerks will run you between $5-$10. Don't forget bammy and festival on the side. At $3, the mac and cheese is a great investment; ditto for their fresh juices.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

went to buy jerk chicken the two young ladies behind the counter beg me to buy them energy drink because i said no the gave me the worst piece of chicken and ive been buying chicken from boston for over 5yrs i i would never go back there.. this happen may 6th

2:24 PM  

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