It was another lunch at the Reggae Shack. I wanted jerk chicken but I am increasingly avoiding meat so I went with the tofu. The menu indicated this was very hot. I double checked with the waitress and she mentioned scotch bonnet pepper hot. I almost chickened out (ha ha), but decided I would give it try as I do like things hot. I'm glad I was brave. It was just shy of too hot, and excellent. The tofu was very soft but all the better to absorb the jerk sauce and it went great with the rice and peas (there aren't many peas), the cabbage – not too soft and not too crisp, and the ripe plaintains – sweet and caramelized. YUM. The GLOB Master had a fried shrimp sandwich. Knowing about soft crab sandwiches, I had to ask if the shrimp tails were removed. Yes they were. This entree came with Reggae Shack Dutty Fries. The Dutty Fries are sweetened and spiced up, which Mike asked the waitress to withhold if possible, but apparently it was not possible – or maybe she just forgot. Except for that, the fries were very good. The sandwich was good, but the jerk tofu was much better in my opinion. I gave Mike a taste from my plate but I didn't want half of his shrimp sandwich. There was a lot of food on our lunch table and I brought half of it home for the next day. YUM x 2!
- Lynn Dirk
Jamaican lunch turns into island adventure
By Mike Sanford, GLOB Editor
"I just went Jamaica mon!"
The Reggae Shack Café in Midtown has been located on University Ave. just west of the railroad tracks since 2003. I finally made it to the shack for some jerk chicken wings this holiday weekend.
It's actually embarrassing that it took me so long to get to this very cool island oasis located in a sea of concrete and cars. There, I've said it, and now I can tell you that the Reggae Shack jerk sauce is as authentic as you will ever find.
A combination of the traditional jerk sauce flavors of allspice, brown sugar, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, a touch of soy sauce, and copious pepper combinations mixed together creates a marinade that will sit in your refrigerator for ever. In fact, the longer it ages, the better it becomes. The amalgamation of ingredients combines to build a molasses-like sauce for my wings that made my cheeks pucker, and my eye light up in a flavor sensory explosion that had me mopping up the remaining sauce with my last festival.
You don't know what festivals are?
Neither did I.
Looking at the Reggae Shack menu was like being Alice gazing through the looking glass. Brown stew fish, callaloo, and salt fish, Caribbean shrimp, Reggae Shack dutty fries, rice and peas -- all the menu items were screaming "EAT ME!"
Speaking of chicken wings, the choice are jerk, Caribbean, hot, tropi-q, spicy curry, and escoveich sauce. Escoveich is a sauce of carrots, onions, scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, and allspice berries.
Since Lynn and I were on an island lunch adventure we started with the jerk chicken wings and two deep fried hush puppies they called Festivals (see photo at right). Festivals are hush puppy-like cornbread sticks with just a taste of coconut. These hush puppies were very tasty, though the consistency was more cake-like than American southern hush puppies.
These mild tasting, just fried, bread yummies were perfect for mopping up the chicken wing jerk sauce and making sure there were no drops left behind.
I thought of GLOBer Pam H.'s comment about how, at Piccadilly Cafeteria, there are so many choices you take more items than you should.
By the time the server returned, Lynn had narrowed down her lunch choices to brown stew chicken, the Down by De Beach mahi sandwich, or the Boneless Curry Chicken.
I was thinking that the Down by De Beach sandwich with peas and rice sounded like an excellent lunch.
As we were making our choices our server looked at us with a knowing smile and said, "It's your first time, right?" With her good suggestions, Lynn chose the curried chicken which came with with sides of cabbage and rice and peas. The peas are kidney beans, which are not Lynn's favorite legume, but there weren't very many of them.
As usual with restaurant servings, there was enough for us to share. The curry was mild but the overall flavor was rich and was a perfect accent for the chicken and the accompanying sides of cabbage and the rice and peas. The curry sauce included little diced squares of sweet potato that added a perfect silky sweet taste and texture to the dish. The chicken itself was amazingly tender and moist.
The Down by De Beach fish sandwich was perfectly battered with a light flour mixture and fried to a thin, tender crust that allowed the flavor of the mahi-mahi fish filet to stand on its own. The surprise of the sandwich was the fried onions, mango-lemon tartar sauce and curry mustard melding my kaiser roll together with the sandwich ingredients like some Jamaican island edible glue.
The Dutty Fries didn't work for me. They have a signature dusting with a mixture of salt and sugar that was a little too sweet. However Lynn's cooked cabbage and the sweet potatoes and onions that accompanied her chicken and rice and peas were a lunch time prize winner.
I could keep writing about this wonderland of island cooking but right now I can see those large chunks of chicken breast covered with that savory, yellow Jamaican curry sauce, and all of a sudden I'm real hungry . . .
The Pluses and Minuses of Reggae Shack Café:
Reggae Shack Café (+) indicators: Wow! What a food adventure. Be sure to check the Reggae Shack Cafe menu out online before you head out to lunch.
Reggae Shack Café(-) indicators: We visited the Reggae Shack on a holiday weekend. Traffic can get busy on University Avenue in front of the Shack.
It was a birthday celebration lunch for UF Entomology and Nematology’s Jane Medley and she decided to make her first trip to the Reggae Shack for her birthday lunch. "That was an excellent idea for a host of Jamaican reasons Mon. The food is excellent, the dining room has a distinct Jamaican feel, and you feel like you're in the islands Mon!"
Jane is on a mission to eat healthy, and she was pleased at the multitude of interesting veggie lunch choices. The very friendly and professional server quickly told us that the spicy menu items were on the hot side. “I like hot,’ was my response as I quickly decided on the Jerk Chicken sandwich with famous Reggae Shack Jerk Sauce, Jerk Lime Mayo with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion plus a side of RS Dutty Fries. Jane selected the Curry Palm Hearts Stew, which had hearts of palm, carrots, onions, red beans, and rice stewed in a most excellent, spicy brown sauce. What a fabulously warm and hearty lunch to enjoy on one of Gainesville’s cooler winter days. To celebrate Jane’s birthday, a giant slice of coconut cake was delivered to our table with several forks so we could share this delicious dessert. The Reggae Shack menu is available at the restaurant link below this feature story.
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