Increasingly woke Times restaurant critic Pete Wells marvels at the miracle of a restaurant that survives gentrification this week with a loving review of the Islands, a Jamaican restaurant on the Crown Heights-Prospect Heights border.
The longtime restaurant from owner Marilyn Reid recently reopened in a bigger space with table service at 671 Washington Ave., between Prospect Place and St. Marks Avenue, after closing the original last spring. It’s technically in Crown Heights, but lies right on the Washington Avenue border, the dividing line between still-gentrifying Crown Heights and long-gentrified Prospect Heights.
Wells, already a fan of the Caribbean stews at the Islands, found that even at the bigger new outpost, some dishes on the menu often weren’t available. But much of what did come out was impressive, Wells writes:
The flattened fritters of salt cod seasoned with fresh hot chiles, known as stamp and go, were crunchy and golden. Some Caribbean cooks deep-fry fish escovitch to oblivion, on the theory that spicy vinegar heals all wounds. The escovitch I had at the Islands was a whole red snapper, obviously fresh and fried just until firm. The vinegar dressing, meanwhile, was seasoned with not just hot chiles but pickled bell peppers, carrots and cucumbers, making this escovitch more interesting than usual.
From the old days, I knew the curried goat would be very tender and richly seasoned, although like most of the cooking at the Islands, it was never scalp-piercingly spicy. Now I’ve found a new standby in the curried vegetables — a very different thing, of course, but the golden raisins, turmeric and allspice may do even more for cabbage and carrots than they do for goat meat.
He also dug the barbecued chicken over the jerk, the rice and peas, the fried plantains, and the stewed cabbage. “And when I’m in the mood for something miraculous, I’ll just remind myself that the Islands is still in business. You can’t stop gentrification, but sometimes you can fool it while it’s looking the other way,” he writes. One star.