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Flatbush might be the destination du jour for Jamaican food in New York, but Bronxites know that there's a tasty patty or two to be had in Edenwald and Wakefield. It's a part of the Bronx, where the city fades into Westchester and Alan Vernon—whom Eric Asimov once deemed instrumental in popularizing jerk in America—first made waves at Vernon's Jerk Parade, that we've largely neglected in this column. That will change this summer, as we'll be rooting out some of the neighborhood's best eats.
Vernon's Jerk Paradise, which was re-anointed Vernon's New Jerk House when Vernon left for Atlanta to reboot his jerk sauce factory, has since shuttered. But the strong Jamaican community that prompted him to open his restaurant remains, as do many restaurants. One of the more celebrated takeout spots is Royal Caribbean Bakery, where you can get jerk chicken, brown pork, and other Jamaican standards for typically low prices. But it's the patties ($2-3) that people come for, and come they do.
As for the patties, you're well advised to skip the beef and head straight to the curry chicken or spinach. The chicken sold at Royal is a different beast than that sold at Concourse Bakery; here it is enlivened by the citrusy heat of habaneros. Emphasis is given to warm spices, and the heat is much mellower. The patty is also more uniformly pasty than that at Concourse—something I don't favor. If I had it my way, I'd eat the Concourse chicken patty in the summer and Royal's take in the winter.
Like the veggie patty down at Concourse, the spinach offers the right kind of contrast. The leaves aren't blended to a paste, but kept whole and cooked down to a pleasant softness. The filling is a bit creamy, an agreeable complement to the bland but well constructed pastry.
Those with a craving for something sweet will find plenty of treats, too: carrot cake, peanut and coconut drops made in the nearby town of Mount Vernon, and more. The coconut drop, made of cubes of coconut, brown sugar and grated ginger, is a sweet to nibble, too large and sugary to be finished in one sitting. The shredded coconut has a chewy texture like a macaroon, and the sugar-coated ginger adds a bit of sharpness. It's enjoyable if uncomplicated.
There are more baked goods to be had at Royal Caribbean Bakery, including a strongly recommended plantain tart that we'll be back for. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring Edenwald and Wakefield, paying visits to backyard jerk barbeques, restaurants, and markets.
Jerk will, for good reason, be a top priority. Though Robert Sietsema very recently declared Flatbush the epicenter of jerk chicken in New York and beyond, the north Bronx was once home to two of the most celebrated jerk kitchens in the city, in the aforementioned Vernon's and The Jerk Center. Both have since left us. Which leaves us asking, is there still destination jerk in the Bronx? Stay tuned, and chime in if you've got a favorite spot for curry goat or salt fish and ackee!