By Nyamekye Daniel
If you are looking for a truly authentic and delicious Jamaican meal then Top Chef Restaurant and Lounge is the place to go.
The first sense that was awaken in me when I walked into Top Chef wasn’t my sense of smell. Instead, I was greeted by the sound of a dominoes being slammed against a table.
Four men sat on each corner of the square wooden table with their backs slumped against the chairs, but their chins pointed straight down to the table debating their next move.
One of the man perked up from the game in order to greet me. He was David Campbell, the chef at the restaurant.
Top Chef Restaurant and Lounge was opened seven years ago by DJ and promoter Mikey Mike and Chef Steve “Top Chef” Mendez after they started hosting events together behind Mike’s clothing store and realized they needed a venue.
The location caters to any type of event. There is a take out area, dinning room, bar and stage.
The strip mall parking lot is typical South Florida, but inside of the restaurant is a taste of the Caribbean.
I was seated by Chef David as he presented me with menu filled with signature Jamaican dishes such as: cook-to-order jerk wings, curry lobster and fried escovitch snapper, oxtail and curry goat.
Chef David, who started his cooking career more than 30 years ago, was a former chef at Sandals in Montego Bay, Jamaica for 11 years and also headed his own restaurant in Ocho Rios. His speciality, he said is lobster; brown stewed or grilled and prepared with his original cream or butter sauce.
Due to my food allergy I could not indulge in the lobster, but I opted for the oxtail with rice and peas and the escovitch snapper instead.
Oxtail has always been my favorite. My mother would cook it on some Sundays and on special occasions. My mouth would water when she would scoop the finger-sticking meat from her pressure cooker to my plate with macaroni and cheese. I would suck the tender succulent meat as well as any trace of gravy in the bones.
Chef David’s oxtail was served with a mountain of rice and peas, steamed carrots and chayote, known in Jamaica as “cho-cho.” Just like my mother’s oxtail it was tender. The meat could’ve been easily consumed with little or no teeth. It had the right amount and the right flavor. I often would visit other restaurants trying to get the find the comfort of my mom’s flavor, just to be disappointed with the overwhelming taste of ketchup or browning sauce.
I wrote “OMG” in my reporter’s notebook after I tasted the rice and peas.
What sets asides rice and peas from other traditional rice recipes is the use of coconut which I could taste in every bite at Top Chef.
The taste was competitive with my surrogate Jamaican mother’s version of the dish. She took the role after my mother’s death.
Forgetting my table manners in a public setting, I sat in dinner of Top Chef and sucked the bones.
When I bit into snapper I was hit with the heat from the scotch bonnet pepper which suits my palette because I like my fish with a kick. It was served with soft, slightly sweet festival. I washed it all down with a champagne soda and rained praises on the chef.
Top Chef doesn’t only offer food and a game of dominoes. On Sundays nights, the lounge is opened late for karaoke, and Mondays the dance floor is packed with patrons dancing to old-school dancehall and reggae.
The restaurant opens from 11 a.m. every day except Sundays when it opens at 4 p.m. On Tuesdays, guests get to enjoy lobster and the other seafood dishes at its weekly fish fry.
It is located at 1401 State Road 7, North Fort Lauderdale.