Breaking away from our usual Indian and Chinese, my wife and I stopped by a strip mall Soul and Caribbean place—the Majestic Cafe, an island of fried chicken and salmon croquettes in an ocean of Asian.
There it was, small, brightly lit, with that warmth and energy that New Jersey Caribbean restaurants always seem to muster up. We were the only customers on a Saturday night and the dishes we wanted were hidden in a menu that also had Chicken Parmigiana Wraps, Cobb Salads, Cheese Ravioli and Italian Hot Dogs. Okay, there were some sublime looking desserts on the counter—but I was skeptical.
Soon, a plate of Brown Stew Chicken (pictured at top) sided by rice and peas and collard greens was in front of me. They were perfect renderings of the cuisine. A ray of tropical sunshine on a cold November night. My wife chose Jerk Chicken and it wasn't one tenth as good. The Majestic was indulging in that grandest of New Jersey restaurant traditions—the gringo menu! In the same way that those Chinese restaurants down the road offer General Tso and Pupu to those who don't know (or don't want) the real thing, the Majestic has Chicken Francaise and Chopped Sirloin Steak. To be fair, the Majestic only has one menu—it's just that the Soul and Caribbean specialties are carefully buried in it. You have to get past the wraps and burgers and really study.
I headed back a few days later to do just that. Lunch on a Tuesday was another story entirely. Packed with people who may or may not have been Soul or Caribbean food fans, it was a compelling argument for the whole gringo menu philosophy—the restaurant was able to fill tables with people who wanted to sit down and eat but didn't want an international culinary experience at that particular moment.
The lunch menu offered the choice between oxtail and curry and goat. I was delighted to be ordering from it. The oxtail was in a beef-stew-like brown gravy, and sided with the same rice and peas I had for dinner last Saturday. I just had to remind myself that not everybody wants this sort of adventure every time they eat out.
1353 Stelton Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854 (map)