Island Time

Keep Warm With Jamaican Grub at Island Sizzler

Sometimes, a chilly day requires hot food.

By Alice Levitt December 6, 2016

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Oxtails and brown stew chicken, $12.05.

Image: Alice Levitt

I never met my father's parents and grandparents, but they all came to the United States from what we now know as former Soviet republics. They, like everyone else, always disliked him, so most of his stories about his family concerned being spat upon or ignored. (He was born in 1926 and people, especially Slavic immigrants, apparently treated kids a bit differently than they do today.) Really the only bit of wisdom passed down through the generations is this: Drink hot tea in hot weather to cool you down.

Does it work? Not at all. Maybe it needs to come out of a samovar to take full effect. But I was reminded of this oft-repeated advice yesterday when I did the opposite and ate a Jamaican lunch on a chilly, rainy day. At Island Sizzler Jamaican Rum Bar & Grill, this makes more sense than the name might suggest. Though the menu includes lighter usual suspects like jerk chicken and patties, its greatest assets are, in fact, warming braises. The restaurant, with its exceptionally friendly staff and loud reggae playing over daytime dramas on the TV (at least at lunchtime), shows the junction at which island cuisine became American soul food in a very clear, very delicious way.

But first, some Champagne. I don't know how the yellow soda that tastes vaguely of bubble gum came to be called "champagne cola," since it bears almost no resemblance to either of those things, but I've always liked it. I was hoping for the DG brand "sof drink" with the cat on the bottle (apparently I'm not the only one who's noted his resemblance to MC Skat Kat) and got it. Not that it's better than any other brand. But it has a cat. 

I was split between ordering oxtails and brown stew chicken, both of which seemed appropriate for the weather. Though it's not listed on the menu, my server said the kitchen is always willing to split an entrée for the price of the more expensive item. What appeared on my table looked like it could have been whole portions of both proteins, but apparently, they were indeed half orders. The sticky, slightly sweet oxtails betrayed just a hint of heat. There was a bit more fire (though still just a firm pat thereof) in the brown stew chicken, which melted from the bone with notes of allspice and thyme. 

The quality of sides varied—the rice and peas weren't heavily seasoned but soaked up the sauces amiably. The stewed cabbage, on the other hand, appeared to be wholly unseasoned. I ate it for the roughage but concentrated on the chewy, football-shaped pieces of plantain. But no question, when I left, lunch's magic had worked—I was warm inside and out.

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