Wednesday, September 21, 2011
It's that time again. No matter that the sun is still shining in Chicago and the temps haven't dipped to their customarily frigid levels, it's the season to travel to one of my favorite islands. There are very few places that can match Jamaica's stunning beauty but what I love most of all is the island's unparalleled culture. Music and food are the hallmark's of genuine Jamaica culture and I like to envelop myself in both at Chicago's Ja Grill. No, there's no palm trees and there's no lyrical patois floating everywhere but there is ackee and saltfish. The national dish of Jamaica is a savory blend of salted cod and mild ackee fruit, traditionally served for breakfast. The ackee is a delicate, pale yellow,West African fruit that is poisonous until it's fully ripe, which is why I leave it to the experts to cook up one of my favorite dishes in the world. So I grabbed my friends and flew over to Jamaica via JA Grill and spent three hours at their legendary Sunday brunch. With vintage ska music pumping through the color-splashed walls, I immediately ordered the ackee and saltfish, above. Rice and peas, cabbage and plantains round out this meal and you would think that's all I'd need but you would be wrong.
By the time the music switched to Bob Marley classics, Sheila the Bajan Beach Bunny had ordered a plate of curried goat, above. The buffet is all you can eat and requires well-conditioned stamina and pacing. I sampled a bowl of fruit before I started my ackee and saltfish, as well as festival, a slightly sweet cornmeal and flour fritter.
The next dish that we ordered was the curried chicken, with heaping sides of callaloo, a leafy green vegetable also called amaranth and the requisite rice and peas and plantains. I really didn't have any room for any of the curry so I rested and lounged until I regained my energy.
The ital stew pictured above, a creamy mixture of vegetables simmered in coconut milk was tempting so I took two whole spoonfuls before I had to retire eating for the rest of the day. The Beach Bunny wouldn't hear of that until I had ended our munching marathon on the expected sweet note.
The sweetness arrived in the form of fluffy waffles and butter rum syrup. The actual dish consisted of jerk chicken and waffles but there's no way we'd survive that so we settled for a small taste of the waffles with divine butter rum syrup that was strong enough to make me woozy. We stumbled out of the brunch stuffed and satisfied, the only thing missing was a hammock to catch a quick cat nap under the beaming (Chicago) sun.