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The bright yellow dome of the Jamaican beef patty only seems to pop up when I'm most hungry and have the fewest options. Too many times have I found myself in a pizza shop at 2 a.m., judgement impaired by alcohol, holding a crusty pastry stuffed with mystery meat, filled with regret. Perhaps it's a blessing in disguise though, as the low, low bar set for the Caribbean hot pocket makes the Jamaican patties at Christie's of Prospect Heights even more enjoyable.
At Christie's Jamaican Patties, the imperfectly formed pastry shells break apart to reveal a thin and flaky crust, each layer more tender and pliant until you reach the hefty beef center, mingled with onion, allspice, and chili pepper. Snag a patty before it sits in the holding oven for too long and the pastry practically melts into the filling. If you're carb loading (or just really hungry), sandwich your patty into a small loaf of buttery soft coco bread ($1.50). Other meat patties ($3) are seasoned similarly and have the same texture of filling (even the shrimp is ground!), but only the beef patties are popular enough to warrant constant turnover and ultimately, consistent freshness.
But that should not discredit any of the other options. In particular, the callaloo loaf ($4) makes for a hearty vegetarian snack. Unlike its meaty peers, the loaf features a softer leavened crust which pulls tightly around the braised leafy greens, not unlike a spinach stromboli without the cheese.
If you plan on venturing beyond the patties, Christie's has a decent selection of standard Jamaican dishes. Most of their business is in take-out though, so everything is pre-prepared and waiting in a steam tray. As one would expect, the dishes that fare best are the ones that would benefit from an extended rest over gentle heat. Tender chunks of goat ($6.50) stewed in a coconut rich curry are a pleasure to pick off the bone; not a neat plate of food, but absolutely worth the mess.
Legs of jerk chicken and barbecue chicken ($3.50) are both a bit tough, with outer bites verging on dry; the jerk seasoning lacks the expected heat and the overly sweet barbecue sauce merely sogs the skin. I suppose one should expect this of steam tray chicken.
The jerk pork ($3.50) fares better, as chunks of heavily seasoned pork butt flanked by layers of soft, rendered fat are cut by a generous sprinkle of Scotch Bonnet pepper seeds; a fire that certainly would have benefited the aforementioned chicken.
Venture to the refrigerator in the back for a selection of Pat's exotic beverages ($4). The fruit juices, like cherry pineapple and soursop, offer a refreshing compliment to the heaviness of the food. More interesting though, are the few beverages thickened with evaporated milk and sea moss, a vitamin-rich algae known for its alleged aphrodisiacal properties. The Stagga Back is a very sweet concoction, flavored with cashews, vanilla, almonds, nutmeg, and cinnamon- offering a scent reminiscent of egg nog. The consistency is thick like melted ice cream, coating your mouth and crawling down your throat.
I wouldn't recommend Christie's for a seated Jamaican meal (for that head to Islands a few blocks away), but you can't go wrong with a fresh from the oven beef patty and coco bread. If you happen to arrive when they are out of either, it shouldn't be more than fifteen minutes until the next tray comes out of the kitchen. You won't regret the wait.