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Island influence returns to Canton

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CANTON — Ya, man! Da Kitchen is open in Canton.

After a short-lived effort several years ago, a new and different Jamaican eatery has opened. A young couple, both with island ancestry, own and operate Da Kitchen, which debuted on a side street in this village’s downtown in March.

Proprietor Jody Pitt, who is of Jamaican descent, came from Brooklyn to attend SUNY Canton. Her partner in the venture, Repton Abraham, was born in Jamaica and moved to the U.S. in 2000.

Jody worked with SUNY Canton’s Small Business Development Center to establish the restaurant.

It’s a tiny place. The walls are painted bright yellow with green accents, Jamaica’s national colors. There’s a small takeout counter, a 4-foot-long steam table and 6-foot-long wooden bar with two stools for those wanting to eat right there. That’s about it.

Jody works the counter; “Rep” does the cooking. She greeted us with a smile as we began the barrage of questions.

She showed us each item in the steam table: jerk chicken, curry chicken, oxtail stew, steamed vegetables, white rice and a Jamaican staple, rice and peas.

All are served as meals — meat, veggies and rice — in small ($6.50) or large ($9) portions. The oxtail is available only as a large portion, priced at $11.

The special of the day, she told us, was fish — tilapia, prepared Jamaican-style as a meal ($11) or as fish and chips for $8.

For those less adventurous, they serve cheeseburgers and fries and wings. They usually have mac and cheese, but none was available the day we visited.

We inquired about goat, a popular meat in Jamaican cuisine. Jody said they have not been able to find a supplier in the north country, but they continue to look.

OK, time to order up. We got a large order of jerk chicken, a small order of curry chicken, a large order of oxtail and the fish special. Small orders are served in small foam containers, large orders in medium-sized round foil takeout containers.

Now the big decision. Eat in or take out? It was a beautiful day, so we walked to nearby Heritage Park. Even if we’d wanted to eat in, there were three of us and a young child and only two stools.

We commandeered an outdoor table and set up our Jamaican picnic. With the first bite from each container, we knew we were in for a treat.

Jerk chicken: This is how all Jamaican restaurants are measured. It’s like the Jewish deli and corned beef and pickles. And here, it measured up. Complex, earthy “jerk” spices — allspice, cinnamon, maybe some cloves and just enough cayenne to complement rather than smother the other flavors. The chicken was extremely juicy, the parts literally hacked into pieces with a cleaver.

Curry chicken: Jamaican 101, part 2. Let’s start with the chicken itself, meaty and juicy, literally falling off the bone. How they do it, who knows? And the curry that seemed to be infused into the meat as well as visibly on the exterior — loaded with depth of flavor. The white rice underneath was there to sop up the “juice” that Jody ladled over it. And like the jerk chicken, it was spicy, but not spicy hot.

Oxtail stew: This is a real “cook it slow and low” dish. After all, it’s the tail of a cow, and there’s nothing tender about it. At least to start. But after the braising process, the meat turns succulent and savory. There’s more bone than meat, for sure, so plan on picking it up with your fingers and nibbling on it. Although the broth appeared a little fatty in the steam table, it was nothing less than amazing poured over the rice and peas.

Fish special: This one grew on us. A cooked-down tomato sauce topped the small piece of tilapia, a generally mild fish. But the combination of subtle spice and sweetness in the sauce actually gave the fish an unexpected deliciousness that kept us going back for more.

Sides: With thick, meaty stews like this, you’ve got to have a lightness to break things up. The veggie was steamed and lightly buttered cabbage, the perfect foil. And the rice and peas, as well as the plain white rice, is mandatory for soaking up the great broth. In fact, we’d ask Jody to ladle a little more on our meals next time.

A word about the rice and peas. We could have sworn the “peas” were red kidney beans. But on our walk back to the little restaurant, Rep was taking a break out front. I quizzed him about the peas/beans thing.

He swears they’re peas. “Says so right on the bag. I get them from Price Chopper. Sometimes Walmart.”

Checking further with a friend familiar with Jamaican cuisine, she told me that it’s more of a colloquial term — like fish and “chips ” — chips being french fries, not potato chips.

Whatever — Da Kitchen’s rice and peas are really good. And they make them in a large commercial rice maker that you can see right behind the counter. The rice is absolutely perfect — ready to soak up that great broth from the chicken or oxtail stew.

Their print menu offers plantains, dumplings and D&G sodas, but we did not get to try them on our visit.

Lunch for three adults and a child cost $37.25. While the eatery accepts college-issued student debit cards, they do not accept VISA or MasterCard or any of the other credit or debit cards.

Da Kitchen is at 13 Hodskin St., the one-way street in downtown Canton.

Turn at A#1 Oriental Kitchen. The Jamaican restaurant will be on your left.

All in all, a great additional to the local scene. We’ll be back, for sure.

You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: wsiebel@wdt.net.





Da Kitchen

13 Hodskin St.

Canton, N.Y.

379-9022



A new Jamaican restaurant in downtown Canton offering a limited menu of authentic Jamaican cuisine.



SUMMER HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday

11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

Hours of operation will be extended when colleges are back in session.



OUR FAVORITES: Jerk chicken, curry chicken, oxtail stew, rice and peas

RATING: 3½ forks

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