Bronx Eats: Chicken-n-Ruff and Chow Mein at Melanie's, Castle Hill
Long home to one of the city's largest Puerto Rican populations, the neighborhoods of Castle Hill and Union Port boast a sizable West Indian presence. Melanie's Roti & Grill is one of the many places that gives these immigrants a taste of home.
With its tinted windows and dim lighting, the facade of Melanie's doesn't cast the most welcoming vibe. But even though it looks more along the lines of a dicey neighborhood dive, it's anything but. The dining room, with its blue walls and long bar, is warm without venturing into palm tree and coconut kitsch.
The menu offers an array of West Indian dishes, including jerk chicken ($8) and polourie ($5), to compliment the Guyanese fare. On a golden plate you'll find chicken-n-ruff ($8.50; also known as chicken in de ruff), a traditional Guyanese take on fried chicken and, here, French fries. It won't expand your culinary horizons, but it's just right for fried chicken fiends. Crackling crisp skin has a bubbly sweetness from the sweet brown sauce that collects underneath. Moist and more flavorful then your average fried chicken, the meat on the bone offers an intensely spiced bite. For their part, the fries are filler, nothing to shrug at or celebrate.
Other West Indian and Guyanese dishes—including bigan choka (roasted eggplant with roti; $8), fried banga ($11), and bunjal goat ($10.50), traditionally cooked on a grill with wet wood—are available for exploration. Curries ($7.50-11), an integral part of the Guyanese table, are not neglected either, and come by way of both land and sea: snapper, shrimp, goat, and more.
Home to a small Cantonese population since colonial times, Guyana has a creolized Chinese cuisine all its own. There, the food—influenced, too, by immigrants from India and the local pantry—has not fallen out of favor, and chow mein remains a daily staple. Less cloyingly sweet and greasy, Guyanese Chinese is nonetheless very familiar. Fried rice, lo mein, and the chow mein are all prominently featured on the menu, with a choice of pork (small $8, large $10), beef ($8, $10), pepper shrimp ($10, $15), and roast duck ($9, $12).
Presented with a garnish of cucumber and cabbage, the pork chow mein tickles the tongue with a hint of curry and anise. Lighter in color and flavor then soy sauce-drenched American chow mein you might otherwise find in the Bronx, these noodles are oily, but far from greasy, and have a soft bite. Shredded carrot, string beans, and scallion greens add complimentary freshness. Ringed with fat, the slices of pork are satisfying, simple, and lightly coated in a sweet, sticky sauce that is distantly Chinese—and the best part of the meal.
For a glimpse into the disparate, and still melting, influences that have shaped Caribbean cuisine, Melanie's is a good choice in the Bronx when you're in search of an undaunting, indulgent meal.
Melanie's Roti & Grill
1248 Castle Hill Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462 (map)