Calypso music greeted us as we entered Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant’s new home, and it produced immediate smiles. How can you not respond positively to those happy rhythms?
I first ate Jamaican food made by “Orchid” — a childhood nickname of owner Rosemarie Coleman — when her place was in a strip mall on Altamont Avenue in Rotterdam. Wife Beverly, however, had never had the pleasure and was looking forward to sampling a different ethnic cuisine.
Now, a little more than two years later, Orchid has moved her operation to much grander quarters, where the old Gourmet operated on State Street at Brandywine Avenue. (Beverly described it as a “retro ’40s nightclub,” but I’d date it a few decades later, partly because of the glittering disco ball that hung over us as we ate.)
Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant
WHERE: 1113 State St., Schenectady. 952-7182, www.checkoutorchids.com
WHEN: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
OTHER INFO: Handicapped accessible; major credit cards accepted
Though Orchid’s place is fancier and certainly more spacious now — there’s a full-service bar, for example — the menu hasn’t changed much, and that’s a good thing.
We thoroughly enjoyed dinner there the other night — with nonstop piped-in reggae and Caribbean tunes — and the cost was only $26.33 for the two of us, including tax and tip. (If you go for lunch, you can spend even less. The sandwich board sign in front of the place during lunch hours lists a number of specials for only $5.99).
The dinner menu is divided into three main parts — chicken, beef/goat and fish. Each of the main dishes comes with a choice of two sides rice and peas, vegetable fried rice, or white rice and side salad, steamed cabbage or collard greens.
Jamaican cuisine is one of slow-cooked, rich flavors with wonderfully aromatic spices. Some of the dishes are served with roti, a kind of generic name for the puffy, warm flatbread favored throughout the Caribbean, mild in flavor and chewy in consistency and perfect for mopping up sauces and serving as wraps for curries and jerks.
Our server for the evening was Debbie, not only friendly and helpful but also fun to watch with her brightly hued nail polish, turquoise eye shadow and glitzy jewelry. Beverly, who wanted the jerk chicken for her entree, mentioned that she had never tried oxtails ($9 for a regular serving, $11 for large) and Debbie obligingly brought us a little sample. It was tender and flavorful in a rich brown sauce and just about falling off the bone.
The Jerk Chicken ($9 and $11), on the other hand, was overcooked, but she said the nippy sauce, which made her lips tingle, made up for the dryish meat.
Her sides were the vegetable fried rice and collard greens, which were tender and flavorful with a little heat.
Our meals arrived very quickly after we ordered and that’s because the slow-cooked dishes like jerks and curries are already done and on heat in the kitchen. (It also accounts for why jerk chicken might be overcooked).
I chose the roti with stewed beef ($7.50 for regular, $9 for large) with sides of steamed cabbage and the traditional rice and peas. The beef was tender and had the rich flavor of meat slow cooked in a gravy with bits of potatoes and other vegetables. The cabbage was mild but delicious and the so-called rice and peas were actually flavorful red beans and rice.
We shared the roti, tearing off pieces of the warm bread to dip into or mop up the various sauces.
We also shared a side dish of fried plantains ($2 for small and $4 for large), which were perfectly rendered, sweet, golden and slightly crisp with caramelization.
In a review of Orchid’s earlier incarnation in 2010, I wrote that the portions were generous. They remain so.
Besides the Jerk Chicken, you can get chicken curry, stewed chicken, fried chicken and chicken soup. There is also jerk-seasoned wings.
Curried goat meat is available, with or without roti.
Fish choices include steamed, fried, Escovitch (very spicy with Scotch bonnet peppers) or brown stew versions of tilapia, shrimp, snapper or cod fish with ackee (a fruit indigenous to West Africa).
The highest priced dinner at Orchid’s is $11, but on Sundays there’s a bountiful buffet for $14.95.
We inquired about dessert and learned there wasn’t any, but the menu suggests that, at least sometimes, you can choose among cupcakes, Jamaican buns, bread pudding and cream puffs. On this particular evening, Debbie could only suggest cornbread.
As we were heading to the car, we ran into Orchid and gave her two thumbs up. She told us next time she would make something for us personally and we would give her “three thumbs up.” She describes her cuisine as Jamaican and Southern soul food, which explains the collard greens and corn bread.
As much as she enjoyed the food, Beverly’s favorite part of our visit to Orchid’s might well have been the reggae version of “Oh Donna” that was piped in through the sound system just before we left. She also was impressed by the stewed oxtails that our obliging server arranged for us to sample.