Altamont Ave., Schenectady, 952-7182. Serving 11-9 Mon-Sat.
Cash only (credit cards to come).
price range: $7.50 (small curried chicken dinner) to
$11 (large beef stew dinner)
compelling blend of spices becomes a flavor so complex that
it achieves an identity independent of its components. Savor
a good curry and you don’t even think to pick out components
like cardamom, cumin and cloves. Similarly, jerk seasoning,
while screaming with allspice, travels considerably far from
that flavor alone.
Jerk chicken, liberated from its long, slow roast, can astonish
you with a crowd of sensations in which sweetness rides the
back of a chili-hot roar, but where the spiciness has so many
palate neighbors that you may not be aware you’ve been so
affected until sweat beads along your forehead. Herein lies
the blessing and curse of Jamaican cuisine. If you’re going
to enjoy something spicy, this is the ideal dish, the punishment
it offers akin to the frisson of spanking during sex play.
But the prospect of that sort of pain frightens many. I take
it back: The curse is not with Jamaican cuisine; it’s the
mac-and-cheese blandness that dulled American cooking for
decades. Thus the apologetic caution offered by so many immigrant
restaurateurs who offer livelier fare: “We don’t make it as
spicy as we do at home.”
The situation has improved in recent years, and I’ve visited
places in other cities that make no compromise or apology.
And I know that you, loyal friend, have done persistent work
in pushing back those culinary boundaries.
Rose Marie Coleman assures me that everything she offers at
her restaurant, Orchid’s (named for her nickname), is easygoing
in the heat department. “Except for the jerk chicken,” she
adds. I’ll take that as a promising compromise, and I can
tell you that the dish is exceptional, well satisfying my
pepper requirements without going anywhere near actual discomfort.
And the rest of her menu? She told me that oxtail is far and
away her most-ordered dish, and when my 13-year-old daughter
tried it, the kid’s eyes lit up. She then assigned me the
task of learning to make it so that it could become a household
dinner staple. These are plump ringlets of meat, cut from
the tail of cattle, with a high fat content that brings persistence
of flavor to the long-simmering stew. There’s often more bone
than meat, but what meat there is has a filling richness.
The menu, posted on a signboard over the counter, offers dinners
in two sizes, which include rice and peas, plantain, and a
choice of salad, cabbage or collard greens. Jerk chicken is
$8 or $10; curried or brown stew chicken is $7.50 or $9. Beef
is available in a stew ($8.50/$11) or oxtail ($8/$10). Curried
goat is $8 or $10.
Jamaica’s national dish is ackee and salt cod ($8/$12), combining
a fruit of west African origin with a pungent fish, cooked
with onions, peppers, tomatoes and more. You’ll find fish
in a brown stew ($8/$12) and escovitch ($8/$12), a
Spanish-derived dish also called escabeche, a cousin
of ceviche, in which the fish marinates overnight in
an acid (like lemon juice), then gets additional cooking with
vinegar, onions and a complement of spices.
Two types of wrapped meat are served: Roti ($3 alone) is a
thin dough that can be filled with chicken ($5), beef ($7)
or goat ($7.50), and each is a meal in itself. Patties are
smaller, plumper and chewier ($1.85 apiece).
Although the place is geared for takeout, a pair of tables
gives a lucky few an eat-in opportunity. Over the course of
a couple of visits, I saw a variety of customers, many clearly
regulars, hurrying in for their take-home bags. “Oh, I see
many different people here,” says Coleman. She rattles off
a rainbow of ethnicities. “Not just Jamaicans. Everybody loves
If the loves persists—as it really should—she’d like to expand
the hours and open for weekend breakfasts and stay open Sundays.
“And I’d like to move to bigger place where I can have tables,”
she says wistfully. “There’s so much more I could be serving.
I’d like to do callaloo and more escovitch.”
Meanwhile, Coleman already is realizing a long-standing ambition.
“This is my dream,” she says. “I’ve always wanted my own restaurant,
and I’ve worked hard to get this.” She can’t talk for too
long, because the phone is ringing with orders, customers
are coming in for pickups, and she and a very small staff
are pulling baking trays from the ovens, topping off the steam
table containers, and heaping spoonful after spoonful into
She’s been in this space for a year and a half, spreading
the word on little more than word of mouth. Let’s help her
build that business.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
World Bistro Bar (300
Delaware Ave., Albany) was one of only 16 restaurants
in the United States to win a 2010 Santé Restaurant
Award in the Innovative Food category. The 13-year-old
Santé Awards program is the only peer-judged national
restaurant competition in North America. Chef
consultant Ric Orlando previously won a Santé
Award in 2006 at his Saugerties restaurant, New
World Home Cooking. . . . Remember to pass your
scraps to Metroland.