A not so hidden secret in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood comes in the form of an unassuming hole-in-the-wall at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue, a hole-in-the-wall from which emanates the tantalizing odor of Jamaican jerk, roti, and curry goat; I am speaking, of course, of The Islands. Owned and run by “two of the hardest-working women in the restaurant business”, as one of the many reviewers have described the proprietresses, this tiny jerk-joint has the well-deserved reputation (and accompanying success) of being the best Caribbean restaurant in a neighborhood saturated with Caribbean restaurants. Yet, it seems as though they go out of their way to avoid expansion.
The two-tiered operation has the homey feel of eating in some kindly woman’s kitchen, on the first level, but the upstairs seating area, lofted above the kitchen in a close-to-the-ceiling and no-way-is-this-up-to-code kind of way, is like an attic. That’s where we sat down to eat one night, right near the edge of the loft looking down over the entrance. From this vantage point, as we devoured a mouth-watering slice of mac’ & cheese and enormous plates of jerk chicken and jerk shrimp (both spicy and tender and perfect) with beans, rice, and buttery vegetables, we could witness the comings and goings of the community at large as they ordered their take-out and chatted up the chefs.
I overheard this, and can back it up, coming from an elderly neighborhood gentleman eating at the counter: “These are the BEST SOUPS. I don’t like soup, but these soups, mmm, boy!” I tried some vegetarian bean stew, which has a lightly creamy broth and vegetables as well as beans, and it really was among the Best Soups. The fact that it was vegetarian was stressed to me by our earnest young waiter, probably because not much else on the menu is. For that reason it may not be the best choice for the more socially responsible gastronomists, but if you’re not a vegetarian and find yourself in Prospect Heights (perhaps after a visit to the beautiful nearby Brooklyn Museum or Botanical Gardens), I urge you: eat here.
A tip from frequent patrons: of the two sizes, large and small, they offer for each entrée, always get the large one. Even if you can’t finish all 25 pounds (exaggeration) of jerk chicken in one sitting, who can argue with awesome leftovers? I can’t. I have never been disappointed to find extra jerk in my fridge.
By: Ben Britz