The Heat Index was still screaming 100 at 5:30 p.m., so we thought why not further tempt fate and visit Hot Spot, the new Jamaican kid on the block?
The small restaurant, located next to Proctors on Broadway, was painted persimmon inside and out. Inside, the walls were tempered with pale peach: warm, but not sizzling like the day.
More take-out than eat-in, Hot Spot nevertheless has an assortment of tables, both regular and high-top, and a small counter with two stools.
Business that evening was lazy like the day, but steady. Young couples, high school students, little kids, even a small dog who was politely asked to wait for the take-out order outside with his mistress — all made an appearance.
A sound system, a cooler crammed with bottles of brightly colored potables, a short counter and steam table took up most of one wall. The opening to what must have been a pretty steamy kitchen was at the far end. Nine tables lined the opposite wall.
Assured by efficient server Foto that in-house and take-out menus were identical, John grabbed a couple of colorful trifold take-out menus from the counter. Chicken Delights, Island Quickies (sandwiches, soups and vegetable dishes), Meaty Fare, Hot Spot Specialties, Fish Supreme, Side Orders, Desserts, Breakfast and Lunch Specials were displayed in an easy-to-read manner.
We had already zeroed in on what we considered out-of-the-ordinary delicacies: Oxtail for John ($11 for small, $13 for large) described as a “savory mix of oxtails and onions in a tangy sauce” which resembled a rich dark gravy. My Mom would have put oxtails in the “waste not/want not” category. I would have added “the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat.”
WHERE: 135 Broadway, Schenectady, 518-280-5077
WHEN: 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri.;
9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., closed Sunday
HOW MUCH: $35 without alcohol,
tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, street parking on Broadway or in parking garage across the street, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, catering
I watched John pick up each bone and nibble away at remaining morsels left after he had carefully used his knife and fork on each piece. The gravy left on the plate was meticulously mopped up with his appetizer of coco bread ($1), a large soft roll made with coconut milk and similar in taste and texture to a Portuguese sweet bread.
My dinner date chose rice and peas (beans, actually) and cooked cabbage as accompaniments to his meal. Cut into strips and more sautéed than steamed, the cabbage was seasoned with a blend of Jamaican herbs and spices that Chef Fuddy, his staff and I described simply as “magical.”
Taking a chance on goat
Curried Goat ($10.50 for small, $12 for large) was my adventuresome choice. Goat mutton slow-cooked with Indo-Jamaican (more magic) spices was accompanied by my choices of white rice and a side of perfectly fried plantains, which were caramelized brown on the outside and sweetly soft on the inside. Spicy, the curried goat was just this side of inferno on my tongue’s Heat-o-Meter.
My additional order of fried dumplings ($1.50/2), each about the size of a small tennis ball or a large golf ball were similar in texture to savory doughnuts. They were coarse inside from perhaps cornmeal and deep-fried golden brown.
We chose Tropicale Rhythms island beverages ($2 each) from the multi-colored bottles: Pineapple Guava for John and Reggae Medley for me. Both were sweet and fruity as expected.
Desserts for home
Despite the fact that we were full, desserts sounded too good to pass up so we brought them home. The Island Rum Cake was dark enough to resemble chocolate cake. One small bite, however, and the flavor of rum dominated. John’s Sweet Potato Pie, a miniature replica of a full-sized pie, was super-sweet and enjoyable. Neither was embellished—nor needed to be.
Although it was possible to find more common food like fried chicken ($9.50 small, $12 large), French fries ($1.75 and $2) and mac and cheese ($3.50) on the menu, most of the dishes were strangers to our mainland palates.
Take for example Mannish Water or Cow Cod ($3.75 small, $7 large), Callaloo and Saltfish (a leafy green vegetable and dried salt cod, $9 for small, $11 for large), Cow Foot ($10 and $12), Ackee and Saltfish (national fruit of Jamaica and saltfish, $14.75), Roti (Indian Flatbread, $5) and Escoveitch Fish (fish marinated in vinegar and seasonings often served for breakfast, $17).
It is a sure bet that friend John and I will return to Hot Spot in the near future—even on another already steamy evening.
Eating the genitals of a bull has been thought to make human males more virile, so Cow Cod Soup is considered an aphrodisiac. Besides the cod or penis of a bull, the soup includes bananas, scotch bonnet peppers and white rum.