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NY eats: the Islands

January 3, 2009

A true hole-in-the-wall, the Islands is located in Brooklyn across the street from the Brooklyn Museum. We never would have gone there if it hadn’t been for my mom’s friend, Immy, who had been there before and swore by the jerk chicken (she claimed that they also had seafood and vegetarian options).
The weather was terrible, even by Chicago standards! We were eager to get inside the restaurant and sit down… but what “restaurant?” Judging by the outside, all I could see was a tiny counter and kitchen area with a few chairs squeezed next to it. However, when we went inside, I saw an extremely narrow blue staircases leading to an adorable little seating area with mismatched tables, wooden tropical birds covering the walls, and a bathroom the size of a closet.
Only one guy was working there: he was the chef and waiter. He claimed that while they usually had a menu, they didn’t have one today (later I saw the menu written on a blackboard downstairs) and simply asked us what we wanted.

He told us they had jerk chicken, curry chicken, curry goat, jerk shrimp, calypso shrimp, garlic shrimp, and even curry vegetables and tofu! Clearly it was slightly American-ized, but that was what I found interesting about it!
He didn’t mention mac and cheese, but Immy, who remembered how good it was, asked if we could have some. We ended up ordering jerk shrimp for me and jerk chicken for them.
To drink, we ordered something I’d never tried before– sorrel. Now, according to Wikepedia, sorrel is simply another word for hibiscus tea. But when I took a sip, the floral notes were overpowered by a sour, almost medicinal taste that reminded me of suan mei tang, Chinese plum juice. It was clearly sweetened, but not overly so. He also brought us lemonade, even though we didn’t ask for it.

THE FOOD TOOK FOREVER! It took so long that we wondered if he was making everything, including the mac and cheese, from scratch. Was he grinding the spices? Killing the chickens (just kidding)?
Anyways, we didn’t mind because it was a cozy atmosphere (we were the only people in the entire place, which I guess is good, considering how small it was) and we had time to talk. When the mac and cheese arrived, he brought us 3 solid bricks of mac and cheese with a few slices of fried plantains each. I, being a die-hard plantain fan, ate all of mine. Interestingly, they were neither greasy nor sweet– much more potato-like than what I was used to.

As for the mac and cheese…. all I can say is HOLY YUM. Not being a huge fan of overly cheese and pasta laden dishes, this was wonderful. It had obviously been baked as a casserole, allowing the pasta and cheese to meld together, so that with every bite, you got a bite of both. I’m pretty sure the cheese was cheddar, and there was such a strong onion taste (not for you, Kath) that my first thought was, “this is potato kugel!”
It was such a huge portion that I probably only had 1/4-1/3 of it, keeping in mind the food that was coming.
We waited again for him to bring the chicken and shrimp… once again, it took a ridiculously long time. The portions were huge! On each plate, in addition to the protein, were long-grain rice and kidney beans cooked in coconut milk, salad with iceberg lettuce, raisins, tomatoes, and bell peppers, and a kind of slaw-meets-stir fry of cabbage, peas, corn, and carrots.

My shrimp was almost too spicy to eat! My spice tolerance is usually okay, but this was so spicy that I only ended up eating one shrimp!!! (that, and I was also full from the mac and cheese) It was also salty, but the sauce tasted great over the rice and beans.
The chicken looked pretty much the same. Immy said it wasn’t as good as usual, because it was crispy rather than melting off the bone. However, theirs wasn’t at all as spicy.
I barely touched my food, but I was STUFFED. Earlier, Immy had mentioned their amazing bread pudding, but just thinking about ordering some made me feel sick. Talk about carb overload: pasta, plaintains, rice, AND bread pudding? I don’t think so.

This food wasn’t actually that cheap… well, it was in principle, but we didn’t mean to order 3 mac and cheeses, which amounted to 12$ (But when you think about it, 4 dollars each isn’t bad).
Immy took the rest of the food home… she probably won’t have to cook or eat out for a week.
When I got back downstairs, I asked him what he had put in the jerk sauce. He showed me his jar of special jerk seasoning. The label said it had Scotch bonnet peppers (Aha! The spice culprit!), nutmeg, all-spice, among other things.

Yum… fantastic food. Just ask for it a little less spicy next time.

Address: 803 Washington Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238

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