In the far southeast corner of Brooklyn, tucked beneath more sought-after neighborhoods, lies Canarsie.
When I grew up there, 21 local stops on the L train separated me from Union Square. After college, I briefly moved back to Canarsie before fleeing to greener pastures. I required immediate access to sushi and vodka—and distance from my family—all of which the neighborhood did not offer.
Canarsie has always been pretty much off the grid, mainly because of its lack of proximity to Manhattan and Brooklyn’s trendier neighborhoods. But I recently ventured back to my old neighborhood, and it was the best thing I’ve done for my stomach—and my soul—in a long while.
Once known for its large Jewish and Italian immigrant communities, Canarsie is now home to a growing West Indian population. But the landscape of the neighborhood really hasn’t changed at all.
Canarsie always felt sparse—somewhat like an urban suburb. My mom and I would walk blocks before we hit a main shopping area, and even those pockets in the neighborhood were pretty unassuming.
The main drags of Rockaway Pkwy., Flatlands Ave. and Avenue L are still home to a random mix of restaurants, bakeries and markets. Granted, these now cater mainly to West Indian tastes.
On Avenue L, I found Jack and Frank’s Barber Shop, where my father would go every other week to have his hair cut. The shop is still standing after 49 years.
What was once J&S Seafood and Pasta House, a no-frills family restaurant where my girlfriends and I worked part-time in high school packing pizza and pasta deliveries, is now Dougie’s Jamaican Cuisine.
Drawn by nostalgia, curiosity and hungry stomachs, my friend and I decided to stop for lunch. Dougie’s was completely empty when we entered that Saturday afternoon. The women behind the counter barely cracked smiles when we placed our order, but they piled our food high in two sturdy cardboard containers.
The interior of the restaurant was still unpretentious and unadorned, just as I remembered it. The same wood panels and mirrors, in which I once self-consciously groomed my 16-year-old self, surrounded us as we ate our jerk chicken and ackee and saltfish.
The jerk sauce was sweet, spicy and well balanced. The heat from the peppers lingered in the back of my throat without heating up my mouth. The chicken itself was a bit dry (see photo at top), but I enjoyed every bite.
Flecked with black pepper and finely diced onion, the salted cod was mildly fishy and light, while the ackee had a silken texture. Our only complaint: The traditional side of dumplings or plantains was unavailable, so we had to double up on portions of mildly sweet and coconut-y rice and red beans.
Our side of house-pickled vegetables—slices of scotch bonnet peppers, carrots, onions and whole peppercorns bobbing in a plastic cup filled with vinegar—packed a bold bite.
Both meals were washed down with tangy, delicious bottles of Ting, a Jamaican grapefruit soda that doubles as a palate cleanser.
At first we had the restaurant to ourselves, but around 4:00 p.m., a crowd started forming. It was only then that I noticed every order seemed to include fried chicken—two words that always hum when spoken, like music to my ears. Had we gone wrong and missed the best dish on Dougie’s menu?
The owner of Dougie’s confirmed that the fried chicken is his favorite dish. What sets it apart? The spicy red sauce served as its accompaniment.
Completely full from our orders of ackee and jerk, the thought of fried chicken was too much to bear—even for me. (Sixteen-year-old Tina would’ve gotten an order to go and chowed down on the train ride home, but my adult self just couldn’t do it.)
Although it’s not considered a primary food destination, Canarsie was worth the trip. In fact, it’s worth another trip back, for sure. There’s an order of Dougie’s fried chicken with my name on it.
Dougies Jamaican Cuisine, 9604 Ave. L, Canarsie, Brooklyn, 718-251-5444, www.dougiesjamaicancuisine.com
Follow all of Tina Corrado’s culinary explorations at her blog, Tina’s Nom Noms.