Jamaican Soul Food in a Hurry at Kelsie's Place on Sunrise

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The drag along Sunrise Boulevard east of I-95 is really in a bad way these days. Almost everything is out of business or vacant, except a few automotive-related businesses and a handful of chain restaurants. It's also a rough area inhabited by many homeless. So it's inspiring to see people still trying to run local businesses there, like Kelsie's Place, a new soul food restaurant by way of Jamaica just three blocks east of I-95. Kelsie's is one of two open restaurants along that area of Sunrise all the way up to Andrews Ave. that are not fast food chains. And its take on typical Jamaican specialties like jerk chicken, curry chicken, oxtail stew, and rice and peas is worth checking out.

Last week I ordered a couple  of $4.29 lunch specials from the clean, bright white shop. The restaurant looks like a very typical lunch counter inside, with a rather Spartan decor and a small scattering of tables off to the left of the counter. A warming case next to the register contains most of the goods. I had ordered in advance, but the cheerful woman behind the counter held off on assembling my plastic to-go containers of jerk and curry chicken until I got there. (We also ordered hot chicken wings, which were done when I arrived.) I got a choice of white rice or rice and peas -- I got the latter, natch -- and since I ordered the sauceless jerk chicken, she let me choose from any sauce I wanted to top the starch with. She ladled a few thick spoonfuls of dark, rich oxtail gravy over my rice. The tab was less than $20 (and most of that was the wings). I grabbed my collection of bags and took everything to go.

I set to work on the Jerk chicken right away. The chopped up, bone-in bird was tender and juicy, pulling into meat chunks with ease. The marinade Kelsie's used was heavy on garlic, black pepper, and fragrant all spice, with just a slight tingle of heat. It wasn't very sweet, which is good because I despise too-sweet jerk almost as much as I can't stand too-sweet BBQ sauce. I'd prefer the chicken a bit more spicy -- I like to think if I can't discern scotch bonnet in my jerk, it's just not hot enough. The sides of rice and peas and cabbage were both great - tender grains of rice and soft, dry beans loaded with thyme and all-spice; slightly crunchy stewed cabbage in a savory pool of it's own juices. After tasting the sauce on the rice and peas, I might try the oxtail next time I go. It was very thick and immensely beefy, the kind of gravy that has you smacking your lips for a long while afterward.

My co-worker's curry chicken looked great, and he said as much. What stunned me the most was the portion size. For $4.29, the styrofoam container was overfilled with rice and salad. But unlike some other in-town Jamaican joints, where they tend to play stingy with the meat, this batch of curry chicken was loaded with falling-apart pieces of chicken.

I snagged a couple wings as well, and they were only OK. The breaded, fried wings only came in mild or hot (no medium, oddly), but out hot sauces was almost cloyingly sweet. The batter had a nice bit of cracked pepper in it, which upped the heat a tad, but it also went soggy quickly, as most breaded wings tend to do. At $5.75 for a six-piece order and $8.25 for 12, I'd probably skip the wings next time.

But I will definitely go back to Kelsie's. The food is just too good for the price -- I really have to wonder how it can stay afloat on that stretch of Sunrise charging so little. But I really hope it does.

Kelsie's Place
1395 W. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

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