Note: The 2009 Vendy Awards, a celebration of New York street food, will be held on September 26 at the Queens Museum of Art (buy tickets here). All proceeds will benefit the Street Vendor Project, an arm of the Urban Justice Center, advocating for the interests of New York street vendors. This year's five finalists will all be on hand to feed the crowds, the judges, and compete for the ultimate title in street food. Each day this week, we'll be profiling one of the finalists.
It's hard to imagine two more unlike corners of the world than the beaches of Jamaica and the pavement of frenetic Midtown, particularly during the lunch hour rush. But the Jamaican Dutchy, up for its first Vendy nomination, stays true to its island roots. "I'm sorry, but I'm not changin' my flavor for no one," says owner O'Neill Reid—a philosophy that seems to apply to both his food and his cart, where meats are cooked long, low, and slow.
Though the Dutchy dishes out gut-busting breakfasts, among them ackee and saltfish and a rotating roster of porridge, the real crowd starts to gather after the noon bell, once the surrounding buildings hemorrhage hungry office captives.
Eating from the Jamaican Dutchy is a carnal experience. There’s no other way to put it. Those accustomed to a neat pile of stewed chicken nestled in a cradle of rice may be unprepared for the bony, skin-on, fresh-off-the-animal hunks of sauce-dripping flesh served here. The meats piled into every groaning Styrofoam container require fingers, and teeth, and determination.
It's a calculated risk, in an office setting. Don’t attempt a bite at your computer, or standing on the street corner—or anywhere without a sink, and a full roll of paper towels on hand, and a hand mirror to check your teeth for spice and meat shards when you’re through.
But it's worth it.
The best of the stewed meats was the salty, superfatty oxtail (small, pictured above, $10), cooked down with peppers, onions, and carrots, swimming in what could delicately be called (as on the menu) its own gravy. All the meats are served over standard-issue rice and beans, with freshly stewed cabbage and soft, sweet plantains.
The curry goat ($9) is chewy in the comforting way of a pot roast, stringy but not tough, served in ample, meaty chunks that cling to the bone.
While I’d been warned about the mouth-searing tendencies of the Dutchy’s dry-rubbed, grilled jerk chicken ($8.50), I found it went down quite easily—hardly spicier than your average cookout bird, though with an appealing smoky, sinus-y kick that a jarred barbecue sauce can’t beat.
The beef patty ($2) was a step up from the bricks sold at most generic street carts, with a flakier crust and a moist meat feeling, but the overall bite was a bit sweet for my taste.
Though the Dutchy hasn't quite mastered the get-it-out pace of many Midtown carts, it's clear they don't really intend to. Just like the slow-cooked meats they're stirring, O'Neill (and his sidekicks, T and Ricky) are in no rush. The Dutchy's in the business of feeding people, of course, but not without giving customers a hello and a minute of their time—rather than just a shouted-out order.
The Jamaican Dutchy
51st Street at Seventh Avenue, NE Corner, New York NY 10019 (map)