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  • Writer's pictureBob Thomas

Chef's Best R&J Jamaican Cuisine

When asked to describe growing up on the Northside of Elmira, my knee-jerk response is to say “underwhelming”. Chef’s Best brought me back to my old stomping ground this month. As I drove through the neighborhood memories flooded back. Everything a kid needed growing up in the 1980’s was right there at that time.

We had crab apple battles in the backyard. Bottle Rocket fights in Pulaski Park. Skateboarding down the “steep” hill on Magee Street. Riding bikes, playing ball, staying out until our sunset curfew.

When we were hungry all we had to do was take a short walk. Around the corner stands King Kone, hands-down the best place for soft serve in Elmira, then and now.

An authentic Convenient Food Mart was almost in my backyard. Plenty of paper route earnings were spent there on Cow Tails and Garbage Pail Kids.

Enrico’s Pizza on the corner of Davis and Noble street was our go-to place for a sheet pizza and wings.

Times have changed. Families in the neighborhood today have even more options for fun and food. I will let the kids decide what constitutes their fun now, (but bottle rockets are plentiful this time of year).

Ice cream and convenience foods are still available in the same locations, but now there is something new at 1208 Davis Street. Swap the pizza for authentic Jamaican food, now available in the heart of the Northside.

R&J Jamaican Restaurant opened its doors to customers on June 8, 2021. Romario Brown and Jenna Balmer are the owners of the restaurant. “We bring a taste of the Island,” said Brown and Balmer. We are bringing home-style like food right to you with a variety of choices. From world famous Jerk chicken, different choices of pork to shrimp, Island Pasta and many more.”

After hearing about the opening of the restaurant, my wife, Marisa, and I had to check it out. The experience was even more enjoyable because we had the chance to share it with friends.

Native Jamaicans Brian Allen and Fitzroy Moore are in the hospitality industry. The cruise ships they worked for more than ten years have been stuck in harbor due to the pandemic. In turn, Allen and Moore shifted to the hotel industry and are spending the Summer Season in Ithaca. “It was a change of pace, but we enjoy exploring the Finger Lakes Region of NY. We do miss food from the Islands and were so happy to hear that authentic Jamaican food was available in Elmira,” said Allen.

Brown and Balmer have multiple years of experience cooking Jamaican food. In their words, “We are food lovers that love to share our Cuisine with everyone.” I was directed to order the Oxtail, a popular seller on the menu. Also ordered to share were the Curry Chicken and Stewed Fish. Food is served take-out style, with a few picnic tables available in the parking lot. We brought the food home, picking up a six pack of Red Stripe at Wegmans on the way home to pair with the meal.

With Bob Marley playing on the Alexa, our tasetebuds were ready to hit the Islands.

The Oxtail is braised and simmered with butter beans. My best description would be little pieces of pot roast on the bone, with a Jamaican flair. The entrée was rich, and full of beef flavor, perfectly offset by rice & peas, and cabbage. The plaintains served with every entrée complete an amazing plate of food.

Fun fact, Jamaican entrees are commonly served with ‘rice and peas’. R&J follows tradition, so that is what we got. The peas are not what I expected. In Jamaica and many Caribbean countries, beans are referred to as peas. According to Wikipedia, “The dish is made with rice and any available legume, such as kidney beans, pigeon peas (known as gungo peas), or cowpeas, the combination of grain and a legume forming a complete protein. This flavors the dish well and reduces the need for additional protein.”

The Stewed Fish was a hit as well. First fried and then sauteed with herbs and spices, served with onions and peppers. The fish was cooked to perfection and the dish had a subtle sweetness.

You haven’t tried curry, until you have Jamaican curry. The Curry Chicken lead with an intense curry flavor, but was still tropical in nature.

Kingston native Moore was impressed. “This is the first time I haven’t felt homesick,” he said.

Allen agreed, “All of the food was authentic, exactly like the food we eat at home. The chefs didn’t miss a beat.”

Owners Brown and Balmer say their special ingredient is love. “There's much to taste here. So, take your time, check out our menu and enjoy a taste of the Islands.”

Pick-up the phone and place an order of authentic Jamaican food. Brown recommends to order early as food commonly sells out before closing time.

Visit my old neighborhood and take a culinary vacation to the Islands at R&J Jamaican Cuisine.

When you dine just ask for the Chef’s Best!

About R&J Jamaican Cuisine

Address: 1208 Davis Street

Elmira, NY, 14901

Phone: 607-442-0818




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