Near Best Buy, Mon
Mall Food Court, 1 Crossgates Mall Rd., Albany, 632-4303.
Serving 10-9:30 Mon-Sat, 11-6 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $6 (small meal) to $10 (double portion)
has the color and texture of scrambled eggs, but cooked ackee
fruit takes you in a completely different flavor direction.
The fruit is sweeter, I think, but it’s difficult to isolate
the flavor when it’s paired with salt cod, which, true to
its name, spreads a salty penumbra over the palate.
But the combination teases the salt into a milder realm, so
this pairing became popular enough in Jamaica to win the title
of national dish. It is, however, an acquired taste. I have
food-adventurous friends unwilling to commit to it just yet,
but my own experience suggests that it grows on you quickly.
And it’s now offered in the least-likely place: at one of
the food court stalls in Crossgates Mall. Amid the familiar
fast-food brands, past the gauntlet of free-sample barkers,
is Full-Mi-Belly, a colorful, bargain-priced eatery that offers
a handful of Jamaican specialties.
It’s an outgrowth of Jamaican Spice, a Beacon restaurant opened
in 2005 by Jamaican native and Poughkeepsie resident Larkland
Campbell. Pleased by the quick popularity of the place, he
created a model that could be franchised into places like
Full-Mi-Belly has the look and feel of a national chain, which
is comforting for the culinarily nervous, but a dramatically
different menu from the rest. This is both a relief and a
Let’s face it, mall shopping is a soul-draining experience.
The sensory assault is relentless, from the involuntary torment
of unwanted music to the eye-grabbing culture of buy buy
buy. The walkways have a prison-cellblock feel and the
blank-eyed stare of fellow shoppers is a reminder that Jack
Finney’s Bodysnatchers are among us still.
Even the food court is depressing. The lines snaking back
from the McDonald’s in effect grab you by the shirt and snarl,
“I’m still the boss.” Plastic tables with attached chairs
oppose comfort, and the only natural light comes from a window
overlooking the crowded parking lot.
How nice, then, to bring a plastic forkful of jerk chicken
to you lips and escape. The allspice-rich seasoning, moist
and pungent, with a reasonable bite, reminds you that the
vibrancy of life is the vibrancy of food, and what you take
in transforms you. Sure, a jerk dish can be spicy, but that’s
only one of many surprising flavor characteristics. It’s sweet.
It dances. It changes as it explores your tongue. It’s addictive.
The jerk pork is also terrific, taking you in yet another
you want sauce on your rice?” you’ll be asked. The answer
is yes. Rice is so harmonious a jerk companion as to be inevitable.
You have the choice of white rice or the more islandy peas-and-rice
combo; I’ve opted only for the latter, which is a satisfying
preparation of a characteristic dish for which there’s no
Clarendon stew chicken is a conventional-though- aromatic
braised dish, paying tribute to a southern Jamaican parish;
stew beef also is available. Curry chicken or goat sport the
effects of a different array of aromatics, while oxtail is
a stew using meat that more usually comes from the conclusion
of a beef cow. And, of course, there’s ackee and saltfish,
which I’m sure you’ll sample once you get to know this place.
Meals at Full-Mi-Belly work as follows: Pick one of the above
meats, choose your rice, and add a vegetable side dish, selecting
from vegetable stew, cabbage, ackee or callaloo. The last-named
is made from a spinach-like leaf combined with okra.
The small-sized meal ($6) offers a reasonable portion of each;
for another $2 you can up the size to an extremely filling
array. I haven’t tried the $10 size, but I trust that it will
feed two and thus offers the best deal of all. For the same
prices, you can opt for three vegetable selections.
You’ll spot a display of meat patties ($2.50 each), which
taste as good as they look, with flaky crusts and a generous
filling made from beef (with or without cheese), jerk or curry
chicken, shrimp, callaloo, veggies or soy. Mini versions are
$1. Make a meal of two patties with a soda for $6.
Chicken or vegetable soup is $3, and you can sample the best
thing to happen to chicken wings with Full-Mi-Belly’s jerk
variety (six for $4, a dozen for $7). A variety of soda and
iced tea, including Jamaican Ting, is available.
It’s easy to fill up with this food, but if you’re left longing
for a sweet finish, rum cake and carrot cake are available
for $3 a slice.
Sad to say, I’ve yet to see a line in front of Full-Mi-Belly
that’s anything like the neighboring lines, but that allows
us a clubhouse feeling about patronizing the place. On the
face of it, classifying this as the best food in the mall
is a designation moderated by the low threshold of the other
offerings; it’s really better than that. Nevertheless, that’s
the compliment I paid the cashier as I paid for my recent
meal, and she smiled and murmured, “That’s what everybody
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
a taste of historic food, historic drama and a
freshly crafted (but historically inspired) beer
when the New Old American Company previews The
Poor Soldier (George Washington’s favorite
operetta) with food from Troy’s The Irish Mist
and Poor Soldier Porter created by C.H.
Evans brewmaster George de Piro. Wet your
whistle as you whet your appetite for vintage
musical comedy at 7 PM, Jan. 15, at the Arts Center
of the Capital Region in Troy. Tickets are $30
and seating is limited, so call 377-3623 for more
info and reservations. . . . Book now for a final
dinner at JT Bakers “New Cuisine” (27 Main
St., Greenwich). Chef Jason Baker ruefully announced
that the place will close on Feb. 21, when he
starts a new position in the kitchen of The
Inn at Erlowest on Lake George. “We would
like to thank everyone who has supported us and
our business,” writes Baker, “and hope we can
look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces
in the next month and then to follow us to the
Inn.” Call 531-2000 for that last reservation.
. . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.