Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen serves delicious homemade Jamaican cuisine
G. A. Benton
In these three words – “WE ARE LINDEN” – the impeccable T-shirt worn by a waiter inside Ena’s Caribbean cuisine said a lot.
I would later learn that this server was Marlon Hayles, the restaurant’s general manager and son of its eponymous owner, Ena Hayles. Marlon’s shirt obviously expressed neighborhood pride, but it also conveyed support for the WE ARE LINDEN youth community outreach and mentorship organization that recently held its 7th Annual Linden Block Party.
The shirt could almost have commented on the highly rated restaurant as well. Established for about 20 years in a prominent corner of Linden (Cleveland and Myrtle Avenues), Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen is a neighborhood landmark where people from all walks of life turn up for delicious homemade Jamaican cuisine.
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This was evident on recent visits when various passers-by waved at me, asked how I was doing, and commented on the dishes I was tearing up on Ena’s convenient patio. Located near the parking lot behind the restaurant, the patio offers shaded, well-spaced picnic tables that make nice perches for lunch in good weather. These are convenient as Ena’s does not currently offer indoor seating.
Orders are taken at two counters inside the modestly sized restaurant. Ena’s interior could be described as no-frills, but it’s bright and tidy and you could – as Bob Marley once sang – “liven up yourself” with its reggae-happy soundtrack, its glossy paint green Jamaican flag and its framed flags of Caribbean nations.
A decoration speaks volumes about Ena’s status as a local icon: a photograph signed by Guy Fieri (didn’t someone say it looked like a Hot Wheels human car?), which featured Ena on her popular Food Network show “Diners, drive-ins and dives.”
Ena’s easy-to-navigate menu lists jerk chicken at the top for good reason. The dish is practically synonymous with Jamaican cuisine and the restaurant’s version full of flavor is excellent value – $10.95 for a huge portion served, like all entrees, with plenty of servings from two of the good sides of the place.
Easily among the best jerk chickens in town, it was smoked on the grill and provided real island warmth thanks to the Scotch Bonnet peppers. Beneath attractive, blistered skin, it also brought meat falling off the bone fragrant with a lively blend of herbs and spices. The equally spicy, equally priced and equally delicious BBQ jerk chicken has similar flavors with the addition of a ladleful sweet and tangy homemade BBQ sauce.
More spicy meat falling off the bone has arrived. Whole red snappers with escoveitch, rice and collard greens are seen at Ena’s Caribbean Kitchen along with the excellent Goat Curry ($14.95). Some of those bones were small and jagged, but this rustic stew with notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger was worth the painstaking work with a fork.
Ena’s Jamaican Style Rice and Beans – simple, hearty and versatile if a little lumpy – are a great side dish for mopping up sauces and gravies. Other stirring accompaniments include: thick strands of cooked-sweetened cabbage brightened up with sautéed onions, bell peppers and a whiff of chilli; juicy, tender and terrific green cabbage; soothing mac and cheese with a tangy sauce; warm, buttery, moderately sweet cornbread; and straight, hand-cut, non-greasy, crispy fries.
The latter made a natural match for the fried whole red snapper ($18 for a medium-sized fish). If you like crispy-skinned fish topped with onions and chilies enlivened by a fiery but nuanced vinegary condiment with hints of mustard – boy, I did – order it escovitch style ($2 extra) and choose a fireproof side dish like macaroni and cheese or cornbread as a second side.
Fancy a chilli-free starter? Hard to beat the pepper steak, a Friday and Saturday special ($16.95).
Like a fusion between beef stew and fajitas, it was tender chunks of beef cooked long with a few potatoes and carrots, plus chunky chunks of onions and peppers in a peppery broth. Maybe because fortune was shining on me in Ena’s bustling patio that day – or was it just the balmy late August sun? – my meal came with the sometimes added lagniappe here: a stretchy, golden, crispy but soft and very comforting deep fried Jamaican dumpling.
Ena’s Caribbean cuisine
Where: 2444 Cleveland Ave, North Linden
Contact: 614-262-0988; www.enascaribbeankitchen.com
Hours: noon to 7 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed on Mondays
Price scale: $10.95 to $20
Vibe: Only patio seating is currently available at this long-time favorite neighborhood, where orders are taken in a bright, tidy space with bright green paint, Caribbean-themed decorations and a lively soundtrack at reggae trend.
Children’s menu: Nope
Liquor license: Nope
quick click: Some of the best home-cooked Jamaican food in town is served in big portions at this iconic Linden family restaurant.
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