Cheap Eats

Palm Beach County's Highest-Rated Yelp Restaurant Might Not Be What You Expect

If someone asked you to name Palm Beach County's highest-rated Yelp restaurant, what would you guess? Would it be a fancy Island establishment or a Clematis Street hot spot? Or a longstanding waterside eatery serving quintessential South Florida seafood?

Nope, guess again. Instead, it's Kersmon Caribbean Restaurant, a small, bistro-like eatery tucked into an average-looking strip mall located at the intersection where Melaleuca Lane meets Jog Road in Greenacres.  

For the past decade, South Floridians in the know have been traveling here for a taste of chef-owner Althea Drummond's ackee and salt fish, oxtail stew, curry goat, jerk chicken, and snapper escovitch. While such fare is also broadly categorized as Caribbean — that catch-all term for the islands of the West Indies and the Caribbean Sea, as well as coastal countries like Guyana and Belize — the food here is distinctly that of the chef's native Jamaica.

Drummond is one of thousands of local residents who can trace their roots to the island, a place where the cuisine is marked by spectacularly bright, complex, and exotic ingredients. It's also influenced by a fusion of cultures, from okra and plantains that originate from Africa, stir-fries and soy sauce from Chinese migrant workers, pork in all forms from Spanish colonists, and myriad variations of curry delivered by the island's indentured Indian populace.

With a big voice and bigger smile, Drummond is a welcoming host to her loyal patronage. The Negril native has been cooking since she was 23 years old, learning the necessary skills from her mother. In 2002, she moved to the United States and in 2007 opened Kersmon. In the past nine years, she's built a steady clientele that has been instrumental in helping the restaurant retain a top spot on the Yelp charts — the highest-rated restaurant in Palm Beach County and the fourth-highest-rated restaurant in both Broward and Palm Beach.
The one thing  you'll need before you dine at Kersmon, however, is patience. For the most part, Drummond is a one-woman show, and all the food here is made from scratch and to order daily. The chef is quick to inform me that nothing on her menu can be plated in less than two hours. That's at least one hour to thicken stews and sauces and another to lock those flavors into meats and fish. By now, many of her customers know to call ahead for certain dishes. It's like making reservations, but for your food, not a seat.

Start with Kersmon's brown-stew chicken — often considered the gateway meal to Jamaica's scotch-bonnet-pepper-heavy dishes. It's a safe bet for those who shy from curry and too much spice. If you can handle the heat, however, it would be a shame to miss Drummond's escovitched snapper, a whole fish fried and coated in a rich yellow curry sauce. The dish is served with a tangled mass of vinegar and pepper-laced shredded red and purple cabbage, carrots, green onion, and bok choy seasoned with a 15-spice blend.
Often regarded as a celebratory dish, here the oxtail itself is reason enough for rejoicing. At Kersmon, everyone from Italians and Russians to the regular Jamaican crowd is known to order a platter or two. To start, Drummond braises the meat slowly in batches, letting each piece burnish and darken on all sides, the key to flavoring the savory brown stew it's served in. It renders meat so tender that it borders on silken, falling from the bone that also offers a bit of cartilage for nibbling and marrow for sucking.

You could end, rather than begin, with a typical Jamaican breakfast that's truly good any time of day. That would be Drummond's ackee and saltfish. Here, the dish is neither too fishy nor too salty — as many versions can be — and the perfect balance of egg-like ackee fruit to white-fleshed fish. It's speckled with flecks of pepper and accented with tenders bits of bell pepper, onion, and tomato.

But it's the jerk — a velvety, rich, brown sauce that looks more like gravy than the traditional rub-like seasoning — that draws the crowds back time and time again. You can order it with the traditional pork or the more popular chicken. But one thing is for sure: You won't find jerk quite like Drummond's, each bite offering a hint of spice that's bold enough to flush your cheeks but quickly mellows in time for you to take another bite.

Drummond tells me you can even find a glowing description of this very dish in James Patterson's book Justice; when he's in the area, the author is one of Kersmon's best customers.

"Jamaican food is bold, full-flavored, and aromatic,” says Drummond. "We have one of the best styles of cooking. The flavors are so unique. That's what makes it so special."

Kersmon Caribbean Cuisine is located at 4622 Jog Road, Greenacres. Call 561-968-5656.

Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.