There's a sign on the corner of Dewey and Ridgeway Avenues that makes a bold claim: "Home of the Best Jamaican Beef Patty." At first glance, it's a tough sell. In some parts of town, beef patties -- which came to Rochester with Caribbean immigrants in the 1960s and 70's -- are more common than chicken wings or a slice of pizza. Caribbean markets and restaurants are commonplace in the Maplewood, Lyell-Otis, 14621, and 19th Ward neighborhoods. Jamaican restaurants have also sprouted in downtown Rochester, EMMA (East Main, Mustard Street, and Atlantic Avenue) neighborhood, in the South Wedge and Henrietta.
The frozen, microwavable, corporate cousins of these patties are found in corner stores and grocers all around Rochester. But as you approach Reggae Jamaica Restaurant & Bakery on Dewey and Ridgeway, the fragrant patties, wrapped in thin Styrofoam sheets and carried by steady stream of smiling patrons, tell the tale. Something is different here.
Patties come from an international family of quick and inexpensive, protein-filled treats that includes samosas, pastelillos and empanadas. Some typical variations include beef, beef and cheese, chicken, or tofu. Virtually all beef patties are spiced with cumin and/or curry, and wrapped in a flaky golden crust. Whatever your choice of filling, the best patties are baked.
The crust of any patty, even after it's baked, is a blank slate that relies on the filling for its flavors. And the patty filling just one of the ways that Reggae Jamaica's bakery distinguishes itself. The restaurant portion of Reggae Jamaica focuses on many classic Caribbean foods such as ox tails, curried chicken or goat, jerk chicken, and pepper steak, while the bakery's specialty is authentic Jamaican patties.
A bite into a Reggae Jamaica beef and cheese patty greets you with a gooey surprise: A freshly sliced, melted chunk of American cheese mixed with wonderfully but not overwhelmingly seasoned beef. Napkins are heavily recommended for this treat -- you might stain a shirt if you're not careful.
"You're not going to share my secret recipe," co-owner Everton Ramsay told me with a wry smile and a deep Jamaican accent.
Ramsay's recipe for patties was hard-earned. He grew up in Kingston and neighboring Portmore, Jamaica. When he was a child, Ramsay's mother asked a pastry shop owner to let Everton work for him, and he's worked in factories and eateries ever since. He learned the art of patty-making as a teenager, working in a factory for a beef patty manufacturer called Cookie Jar.
At age 21, Everton Ramsay opened his first of many eateries across the island of Jamaica. He immigrated to Rochester in 2009, and two years later, he opened Reggae Jamaica in Lightfoot Square on Jefferson Avenue, teaming up with his brother Erickson and nephew Orville. The business bounced from location to location, eventually finding its current home in two side by side storefronts on the busy corner of Dewey and Ridgeway. And today, business is booming.
"I actually live on the east side of Rochester," said frequent customer Deion Green, while picking up a brown stew chicken combo. "But I come here at least once per week to eat. They're fantastic."
Another customer, while waiting on the popular jerk chicken, rice, and peas combo plate, says he's been going to Reggae Jamaica since it opened, and that he loves the curry chicken patty.
Curry chicken patties are just one way the Ramsay family is innovating how patties are made and served. Another delight among Ramsay Bakery's patties is its Full House patty, which starts with a patty of your choice, cut open and stuffed with a motherload of freshly cut cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Ramsay Bakery patties also come in jerk chicken and stewed vegetable filled varieties. Each patty goes straight from the oven into your hands.
"We're pioneers, man." Orville Ramsay says. "We gotta do it first. Get it out there. And see how big we can get this thing.
The Ramsay's' plans are much larger than their storefronts. They're investing their profits in equipment and plan to produce patties in bulk to sell across the state and beyond in the coming months. "I want to take this business to the sky," Everton says.
Reggae Jamaica Restaurant & Bakery is located at 1485 Dewey Avenue and is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 8 p.m. 647-2156; facebook.com/ReggaeJamaicaRestaurant.
SKYWAY/Café SOL is now open at 90 South Clinton Avenue. The café will serve coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, and sandwiches during daytime hours and serve as a bar and lounge with a DJ booth and dance floor in the evenings. A public opening and happy hour is scheduled for Friday, November 2, at 4 p.m. and the bar will be open on Saturday, November 3, from 7 p.m. until late. Regular operating hours for the café are Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The bar's hours are Thursdays from 4 p.m. until late, Fridays from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m., and Saturdays from 7 p.m. until 2 a.m. skywayroc.com.
The Tavern at Gibbs has closed.
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