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Irie Mon Jamaican Restaurant – Haddon Heights, NJ

Irie Mon Jamaican Restaurant – Haddon Heights, NJ

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Jamaican food is one of my favorite types of cuisine. The flavor profile is mixed beautifully when done just right with that little bit of spicy elevating the dish in a good taste type of way instead of just spicy to be spicy. Let me tell you that Irie Mon Jamaican Restaurant’s Jerk chicken was spot on. I hate when some places just bake the chicken and throw spice on top. Not here! From the smokey flavor to the crisp skin every bite was delicious and really enjoyed my visit. They should be on your radar if you are fan of this cuisine. A welcome addition to this area of South Jersey.

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Maxwells Caribbean Take-out – Philadelphia, PA

Maxwells Caribbean Take-out – Philadelphia, PA

Getting to Maxwells Caribbean (MC) is not one of the most scenic routes in Philadelphia. Sitting in a depressed area of North Philadelphia a couple of blocks from the Temple University campus MC sits. Temple has had up upswing of dining establishments popping up throughout the years to feed the hungry student base, but MC has been here long before that trend started.

MC is strictly a take-out location. No chairs, no stools, but lots of thick glass to protect its workers from the harm of the outside world and signs posted to leave your weapons outside. The staff at MC was so friendly and helpful it is such a shame they are located in a part of town where a sit down restaurant is challenge just for safety reason alone. With my weapons left outside, I ordered a medium sized Jerk Chicken platter.

maxwells

The chicken was a little more stuck to the bone than I enjoy for my jerk chicken. One of the benefits of jerk chicken usually is the luxury of a slow cooked meat that has the meat falling apart right off the bone. It was not under-cooked, but it just made it a tad bit more work than usual. The spice of the day was SPICY and I mean SPICY. The overall flavor had the signs of jerk chicken, but without any visible smoke taste applied to meat. I would have to say the MC only bakes the chicken. The plantains were cooked nicely, but I could have gone for a larger portion and the cabbage mix was nice, but again just a very small portion of it. Plenty of rice was provided, but it was not seasoned in any way.

I really enjoyed the staff at MC and hope that they are not given a hard time too frequently by the locals loitering across the street who seemed like they could get unruly at any moment and enjoyed what I can only hope was medical marijuana from New Jersey since Pennsylvania is not one of the states that offer it. They have been in business for quite sometime at their current location so they must be doing something right. My meal was good, but not great. With that being said it is hard for me to recommend an out of the way ride to get their offerings, but if you happen to be in the area or are a Temple student living around campus looking for a change of pace from fast food, food trucks, cafeteria food, and pizza joints, MC could be the spot you have just been looking for.

Jamaican Jerk Hut – Philadelphia, PA

Jamaican Jerk Hut – Philadelphia, PA

When you think of Jamaican food, you usually do not equate it to being fancy in any manner. Well Jamaican Jerk Hut (JJH) is trying to offering their island’s famous flavors with an upscale flair. In doing so, JJH has had their share of fame. They have had a movie called “In Her Shoes” starring Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine shoot scenes in the restaurant that were featured in the money as well as hosting Food Network star Guy Fieri who has listed JJH on his website http://www.guyfieri.com/ as a Triple D Hotspot and was featured on his show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” in June of last year.

JJH is very deceiving. When you walk inside the front of the restaurant, JJH seems very tiny and quaint. Walk to the side and JJH has a very large outdoor area for events and dining that is unheard of in Center City Philadelphia, and then they also have a rear restaurant that has seating for quite a few people as well. JJH really is like three different dining experiences in one. The service was friendly and down home. My order would be Jerk Chicken.

jam jerk hut

The presentation of their food at JJH is top notch for this type of dish. I would hope so as the bill would ring in at $15 for my jerk chicken platter. With JJH serving size so much smaller than most locations offering jerk chicken you know you are paying for the experience of dining in the safety of a center city neighborhood unlike other spots offering this type of food, the fancier Caribbean ambiance they provide especially with the outdoor seating, and a little bit of eating somewhere you have seen on television to tell your friends you ate there. With all of that being said, thankfully the food was top notch as well. The chicken had some major heat to it that was part of its flavor and not just spicy to be spicy if you know what I mean. Do not get me wrong as it was still very spicy as the burning sensation in my mouth radiated long after leaving JJH, so you know it had quite a kick to it, but it was a kick that was part of the flavor profile. The spice combination was spot on and one of the best around. The meat was firm, but still came off the bone easily. The sides of rice, cabbage, and plantains were all good and better than average, but finished very quickly with their compact portions.

I enjoyed my time at JJH, but I must admit I did walk out a little hungry after my meal. JJH is providing the finest dining experience of Caribbean food around that I know of, but part of the allure of authenic jerk food to me is that in Jamaica it is provided by street stall hawkers selling their fare to the common islander as an affordable meal just pulled out of a pot or drum smoker with little emphasis on appearance. JJH has a good thing going and I can see why they have received their amount of well deserved press and loyal followers.

Would I go back? Yes, but more as a night out on the town introducing individuals new to Caribbean cuisine to JJH as they provide an atmosphere that anyone could enjoy and would be something new and exciting to try.

Are they the best? They are one of better options around Philadelphia, but I would not call them the best.

Overall
Three and Three-Fouth out of Five Stars

Food Trucks Driving Philadelphia’s Food Scene Even Further

Jamaican D’s – Philadelphia, PA – 3rd & Spring Garden Street Truck

Philadelphia’s food truck movement has been growing exponentially the last few years as highlighted in many published articles on the subject such as this one (click here) for uwishunu.com by Allison Stadd. Some trucks are mobile at all times, others are stationed at specific locations year-round. One resource to find information about the food trucks is Philly Mobile Food Association, but as of the date I wrote this article their website had not been updated since October 2012 and their Facebook and Twitter feeds seem to be used quite infrequently thus not making it easy or convenient to patronize their members. The food truck scene is by no means new in Philadelphia now, but their allure and ability to promote seem to have faded slightly after many roaring success in 2012 with the exception of The Food Trust’s wildly popular “Night Market Philadelphia” events like the next one planned at 5th and South Street on Thursday, August 15th.

My food truck visit would bring me to Jamaican D’s (JD) at their 3rd and Spring Garden Street outpost for an order of Jerk Chicken with fried plantains and cabbage. JD is a stationary truck here Monday through Friday as this truck is one of the many JD trucks in their fleet throughout Philadelphia. You may recognize the name from one of their most prolific and long standing trucks at the Community College of Philadelphia campus at 17th & Spring Garden Streets.

jam D

I ordered the medium sized platter which was nine dollars and the portions were very generous in all aspects of the meal. The plantains were cooked nicely with a decent amount of sweetness to them. The chicken was seasoned well along with being moist and tender while the skin had a good crisp firmness with the meat still easily coming off the bone. The rice was covered in a jerk sauce while the chicken was topped with an additional sauce of some sort with the option of mild or spicy giving the entire dish a nice mix of flavors in each bite. The only aspect of the dish that I was not thrilled about was the cabbage. The cabbage seemed it was not cooked long enough and could have been chopped a little smaller. It was tough and too chunky for my liking. The flavor seemed OK, but too much crunch in every bite for me.

The meal JD provided was as good if not better than some I have had at full blown Caribbean restaurants. The service was quick and friendly with portion size very generous and affordable. If you drive to order something from JD, just be aware that parking is not the easiest thing to find near them at this location. With the experience I had at JD I see no reason why the food truck movement can not grow even larger. The days of having to go to a singular location to eat something specific could easily come to an end with these trucks ability to go out and about where the crowds want and need them. I only hope they can band together to get their message out to the masses in an effective manner.

Overall
Three and half out of Five Stars

Lock me up, I love to eat “ILLEGAL” food

A sleek black phone sits idly on the coffee table, window blinds closed tightly to seal out the daylight while I sit silently in the dark with my eyes burning from staring at it, just waiting for the phone to let me know they still care about me. When will the next message from them come? Will it be today, tomorrow, the next day, or never again? Should I cancel all of my plans for the next few days in case the message comes and the product is being sold sometime soon. I am frozen stiff in place with anxiety and do not want to move this way I can be assured if the message does come through, I will be able to get my next fix of it as soon as possible.

What am I supposed to do? I am breaking out in chills, palms warm and sweaty, pupils large, eyes red, teeth grinding, and unsure if I will ever have it again. Why does life have to be this way?

The phone finally chimes and a personalized encoded cryptic message comes through. I rub my eyes to sooth the red puffiness that has overcome them and remove the crust surrounding them to beable to see my phone in the dark. It reads “today jerk and curry chicken available and red snapper made to order all with rice and beans, cabbage and plantains, $xx.xx per platter, meet at such and such parking lot, only between 4:30pm-5:30pm, thanks for your support”. I quickly get myself together, and frantically send out my message to others letting them know I received notice and let me know if they would like me to do business for them. A total of nine orders are what I will set out to pick up undercover to have a party get started again.

I arrive at the destination with a few unfamiliar cars surrounding me and a police patrol vehicle parked nearby. Do the authorities know of my underground food dealings? Is this an undercover sting operation? Have I been setup the entire time, with news reporters and cameramen hiding in the bushes coming to flash bright lights in my face exposing my addiction to Jamaican food. Will this be my last meal as a free man? Should I flee while I still have the chance, and deal with my terrible withdraw symptoms? I feel like screaming! Thankfully, all of these thoughts passed by in only 3 seconds, and within a minute, I hear the crank of the  engine, headlights flash on, and our fine protector of the peace  depart the parking lot as well as the other unknown vehicles. I  now sit calmly waiting for the transaction to be happen.

A familiar face pulls into the parking lot. I walk over, we exchange pleasantries, ask how the family is doing, and anything else on the top of our minds. The food is sitting on the floor of the passenger side of the vehicle, packaged up and ready to go. The money is exchanged for the product I came for, and back home I go to start the cycle all over again of wondering if and when this will ever happen again, and wishing my friend good luck in his culinary endeavors.

jam

This underground food exchange is nothing new for me, and surprisingly happens quite frequently. The one I just described isa former restaurant owner, who tried their hand in the culinary world by opening two different restaurants, both of which did not survive and left the restaurant business for good. We became friends, years have since passed and out of the blue a call came through saying that they needed to raise some money here and there and that they were going to dabble in the food business again, but only cooking things at home for friends and family when time permitted and sending out a random text when that day and time would be and where to meet. Then there was the time I met aprofessional foodie rebel, who I met making the most delicious
lobster rolls I have ever tasted in his basement in Brooklyn during a under the radar weekend culinary tour of all five of New York City’s boroughs. He also, will remain unnamed, but he has appeared on the Food Network, even alongside famous Chef Bobby Flay so it goes to show that the underground food market is not just for some at home cooks or people down on their luck looking to get money anyway possible. During the visit you had to stay completely silent during your meal because his neighbors had become tired of the amount of visitors and noise coming from his basement apartment.

The two dealings I just mentioned are illegal. Technically the law is being broken and I am supporting criminal behavior. As much as Uncle Sam may hate it, I am sleeping soundly at night, and I will continue to join in on such illicit affairs. I am not endorsing this type of lifestyle, I just am highlighting that such a thing exists.

Now you may be asking yourself was the jerk chicken shown in the picture any good? The answer is yes and I will eat it again and again given the opportunity is there and I am available that day to pick it up. I will say thought that it was not as good as what they used to serve at their now defunct restaurants, but I do not think they are interested in that lifestyle again.

I am not giving stars on the food as each experience is different and not able to be duplicated or available to the general public. What I can tell you, is live life a little bit, ask around to find some underground foodie speakeasy or events near you even if they are serving horse meat. Get over your fears of food. Trust me, even if the food is not the best you have ever had, the experience alone will give you something to talk about for quite some time.