MORRIS COUNTY — On his return home from a Jamaican vacation my friend was excited to relive his culinary adventures with me. As he raved on about the many delicious Jamaican dishes he experienced while in the West Indies, I realized a visit to an authentic Jamaican restaurant was in order. A quick search of Google surprisingly pointed to a local area eatery only a few miles from my home in Downtown Boonton. I say surprisingly as I must have driven past this quaint little storefront building a hundred times and never realized it was the home to what was going to turn into another wonderful dining adventure.
Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine is located at 309 Main Street, at the far end of the business district near the Boonton Transit Station and Myrtle Avenue. Street parking in close proximity to the restaurant is usually available, and Eric’s is easy to find. Look for the brick-faced; glass-fronted building with the green striped awning with yellow lettering boldly announcing the restaurant’s name.
A novice to this cuisine, I was looking forward to what my research revealed. Based on the cultural history of the Caribbean, their food is an eclectic fusion of fresh, flavorful food, that encompasses cooking influences ranging from the Middle East to China, Africa, and every place in between. Yes, this cuisine is considered Caribbean food, with a strong African influence. My proclivity for spicy, properly spiced and seasoned, ethnically authentic dishes, made this style of cooking appear to be a perfect match for my palate. In fact, I ordered a wide sampling of dishes which not only met, but exceeded my expectations, but more about that later.
A culinary melting pot of cultures, Jamaica’s cuisine focuses on fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood. As stated, I enjoy spicy food, but Jamaican food, despite being known for being spicy, can be prepared and adapted to your taste, so don’t let that scare you away. This cuisine utilizes a unique and wide array of herbs and spices that provide a range of tastes from sweet, savory, spicy, and more, offering something to satisfy almost anyone’s particular taste buds. Whatever you order, be assured it will be a comforting, mouth-watering dish, full of distinctive flavors and color.
Eric Hewitt, along with wife Donna, are the owners and proprietors of Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine. A small, independently owned, mom-and-pop eatery that the couple opened in downtown Boonton in 2014. You would be hard-pressed to find a more congenial, warm, and friendly couple than Eric and Donna. Eric came to the USA in 1987, and he and Donna, who basically handles the counter while Eric cooks have been married for 31 years. Previously owning a similar eatery in Paterson, Eric and Donna decided to bring their talents to our area nine years ago, and we’re fortunate they did.
On entry, you are met with a tantalizing aroma that will stimulate your appetite as you are warmly greeted by a smiling and welcoming Eric or Donna, who are probably stationed at the counter at the head of the restaurant. The counter fronts a spotless, openly visible kitchen, where one can watch Eric working his magic. Immediately you feel at home in their cozy, comfortable, and casual dining room. The eatery itself offers approximately eight to ten white-topped tables, each of which seats four people. The décor is simple but very clean and organized. The focus here appears to be on the food and not fancy decorations or gimmicks. The soft yellow and orange walls are offset by a variety of tasteful original Jamaican-themed paintings, including several of Jamaican superstar Bob Marley, which Eric proudly told me, were all painted by Kevin Grant, a family friend. Most days you will hear soft Reggae music playing in the background. As I stated, the decor is simple, but the vibe and ambiance seem to blend nicely with the cuisine. Comfortable ambient lighting from the large storefront window is relaxing and highlights the white ceiling and wood panel flooring.
Eric stated that he learned all his cooking skills from his mother, and to this day still utilizes his mother’s traditional recipes in his restaurant. He assures me that every one of his dishes is as authentic as those he ate as a child sitting in his mother’s kitchen. As his wife Donna told me, “Eric puts his heart and soul into every dish.” She elaborated, “All their food is made with love.” Eric added, “Everything is made every day from scratch, we use only the freshest ingredients.” After sampling their food, I had no doubt about any of those comments.
Because of my, and my guests’, unfamiliarity with the menu we sought the assistance of Eric, who was more than pleased to prepare an assortment of authentic, traditional food that more than met our needs. Each dish was more tasteful than the next, and by the time we were done, we had received an introduction, and education, into Jamaican cuisine at its finest.
Our meal, which we decided to share family style, consisted of Brown Stew Chicken, Oxtail, Curry Goat, Curry Chicken, Beef Curry, Jerk Pork, Jerk Chicken, Chicken, and Beef Patties, with sides consisting of a large platter of Rice and Peas and Jamaican Steamed Cabbage. We were confronted with enough food to feed a small army! To go along with our abundant meal, I brought along some Red Stripe (Jamaican Lager Beer), while my guests enjoyed their wine. Did I mention that Eric’s is a BYO? Cold drinks, including some of Jamaica’s most popular, like Ginger Beer and Pineapple Soda are available. On a side note, Jamaica’s national drink is Rum, (which is not available), and their most popular soft drink is Coca-Cola Classic. Their national dish is Ackee (a fruit native to tropical West Africa) and Codfish, which is traditionally eaten at breakfast and is served at Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine, which I’m also told is a must-try for an authentic Jamaican experience.
Fall-off-the-bone tenderness is the way I would describe the moist, juicy, savory, perfectly cooked, and expertly seasoned dishes, whether it be the beef, pork, chicken, or oxtail; every bite offered bold and vibrant tastes that stimulated my palate. Jamaican food has just found a new fan! Be it the hint of smokey taste on the beautifully charred chicken, or the compelling sauce that complemented each dish, every bite was full of flavor, and new and exciting tastes. The Oxtail had a great texture, with a deep, rich, and strong beef taste that provided a satisfying, nice, unctuous mouth feel. The distinctive, sweet, and rich flavor of the Curry Goat was succulent. The Beef Curry was a rich dish that was spicy and warming. All sorts of different notes and savory flavors emanate from all these dishes; all a treat. The spicy, smokey, marinated, slow-cooked, and grilled Jerk Chicken was bold and aromatic, with a slightly sweet touch, and bursting with flavor.
I should not forget to mention the sides that come with the entrees, The large serving of Jamaican Rice and Peas (beans) was a perfect complement to the meal, as was the highly flavorful Jamaican Steamed Cabbage; not to forget the fried, fresh, sweet Plantains. The homemade golden-tinted, flaky, Jamaican Patties (Beef, Curry Chicken, and Jerk Chicken) were fantastic. And should you want to add an additional kick to any of your dishes there is always a bottle of Jamaican Hot Pepper Sauce on the table. Not for everyone, but I loved it.
Summing up, Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine is the real thing. I can’t think of a better bang for your buck. Portions are generously sized, and prices are very reasonable. The food was high-quality and everything I had was cooked to perfection. One visit and I am now a Jamaican cuisine enthusiast. Thank you, Eric and Donna, for your cordial, friendly hospitality, and a wonderful dining experience. For those of you who have yet to try Jamaican cuisine, I would suggest you head over to the quaint downtown of Boonton, stop in, say hello to Eric and Donna, and have Eric cook up a meal you will remember.
Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine, 309 Main Street, Boonton, NJ 07005. Phone: (973) 334-0102 Hours: Wednesday through Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Dine In – Takeout – Delivery – Catering – Special Orders (Call Ahead) – BYOB. Metered Street Parking.
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Reprinted from Parsippany Focus Magazine, September 2023. Click here to read the magazine.