Jackie's Caribbean Bakery is known chiefly for one thing: their coco bread. You'll find it in an unimpressive strip mall on the fringes of the Bronx, the kind of place that reeks of suburban stagnation. But it's the best coco bread I've had, fluffier and fresher than I knew the stuff could be.
Coco bread is yeast-based and bread-pocket-shaped, with a hard shell but a much softer interior. (It may or may not contain coconut milk, depending on who you talk to.) While it can be eaten alone, you'll also find it stuffed with all kinds of savory fillings: whole spiced patties and cheese, jerk chicken, or even a hot dog. At Jackie's, you'll find all these fillings and then some.
The Jerk Chicken Coco Bread ($4.50) sounds tempting, what with its cheese, mayonnaise, and jerk spices. But the cheese is the low quality kind you thought you'd left behind at your high school cafeteria, and the chicken, which tastes like it was cooked without salt or sauce, is bland and baked, not smoked. There's no smoky flavor to speak of, and the jerk sauce, clearly applied as a finishing touch, adds little to the equation.
Go instead with the Codfish and Callaloo Coco Bread ($4), which is bolder and better seasoned. In Jamaica, callaloo, a pan-Caribbean dish of leafy greens, is made with steamed amaranth greens. The cooked down greens, which don't have much flavor of their own, are mixed with chopped up salt cod, which adds a brininess and chewiness that perfectly matches the soft texture and mild flavor of the bread. It's a great sandwich and an even better way to wake up if you live in the neighborhood, but I'd welcome it any time of day.
In addition to the typical litany of savory takeout fare, Jackie's offers a range of sweets. I'm often turned off by these—such desserts are often stale and oversweet—but their Gizzardas ($2) is worth trying. Grated coconut, ginger, and brown sugar are cooked in a pastry shell, one that is none too special, and certainly doesn't taste homemade. The filling, though, has a nice chew courtesy of the coconut. Give me a little more ginger and a better pastry shell, and I'd be hooked. In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes peeled for superior gizzardas.
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