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The Joy of Jamaican

Though three days passed between my taxi ride with Constance Marie Barnes and the trip to her favorite Jamaican restaurant, the meal at The Door felt like a seamless continuation of the easy warmth I found in her cab.

The restaurant was packed with a well-dressed, after-church crowd when my co-adventurer and I showed up close to noon on Sunday. Recessed lights shone down on an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet. We inhaled the promising smells of curry and stewed chicken and begged our waiter to let us order from the menu.

As Constance promised, the menu at The Door – with escovitched snapper, curried goat, roti, and stir-fry – went way beyond jerk chicken. According to the cabbie – whose parents emigrated from Jamaica to Queens in 1964 – Jamaican food is a product of “eclectic influences” from the indigenous Tainos, and the Spanish, British, African, Indians, and Chinese who landed on the island after Columbus. The food at The Door reflects all of that convergence.

We kicked things off with a basket of warm corn bread (soft, sweet, delicious) and cups of soup (chicken and vegetable for me, fish with fresh thyme for my co-adventurer). The soup was the first thing Constance had mentioned about the food at the Door, and we could understand why. Slow cooking had extracted all of the flavor from fish and chicken bones and given rise to broth that tasted of patience.

Next came an ackee and saltfish (cod) spring roll that snapped us out of our soup reverie. Between the heavy batter and the saltiness, we could hardly find the mild flavor of the ackee (the national fruit of Jamaica that was originally brought over from West Africa and is toxic when eaten unripe).

Our feast bounced back to delicious when we got our goat curry and oxtail stew, along with fried plantains, green beans and carrots, and red peas (beans) and rice.

Constance told me that goat curry was the main reason she couldn’t go vegan – especially the goat curry at the Door. The way they cook the goat, she said, made it great on the taste buds and easy on the stomach. She was right.

Goat isn’t for everyone – it can be too earthy and grassy for some – but this goat was simmered to tender and slathered in a mustard-heavy curry paste that played on the meat’s strong flavor without muting it. If you think you don’t like goat, try this version before you decide.

While I was swooning over my goat, my co-adventurer’s oxtail stew was outdoing her Jamaican co-worker’s home-cooked rendition of the dish. The meat – basted in tomato, garlic, Tabasco and allspice – was sweet and smoky and roasted on the bone. All of the side dishes – especially the fried plantains – were cooked with same degree of soul.

By the time we got to dessert, the meal had become a sport. We were no longer hungry, but in the interest of bringing the feast to a graceful close, we tried a slice of Jamaican black cake. We liked its moistness, but in the end the rum-soaked raisin cake was too cloyingly sweet for us to finish. Next time, I’ll try the sweet potato pudding.

Writer Marya Mannes – who worked as a columnist for The New York Times during the 1960s – believed that “the curse of the romantic is…an intensity of expectation that, in the end, diminishes the reality.”

If Ms. Mannes were still around, I’d attempt to take her on a taxi adventure. Or at least I’d try to convince her that the joys of being a romantic often outweigh the pain – especially in the case of restaurants like The Door, where the reality of the what we ate went far beyond my food fantasies.

The Door
163-07 Baisley Blvd.
Jamaica (Queens)
Tel. 718-525-1083
Hours: Sun-Thurs, 8am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 8am-12am(Live reggae on Saturdays)
Credit cards accepted

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