Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Not to anything nefarious, you understand, but to Blue Marlin, the Jamaican restaurant in Bradley Beach where Roy Reid had delighted customers for 12 years.
In 2003, with restaurants still in the post-9/11 doldrums, Reid and his wife moved to Atlanta. “Every time I’d come to town,” he told me after my visits, “people would say, ‘When are you coming back? We need you.’” Finally, in 2013, he decided to revive Blue Marlin. Same mural, many of the same dishes—and same gregarious owner, known for his stories of growing up in western Jamaica.
What has changed, Reid admits, is the competition. When he opened Blue Marlin in 1991, Bradley Beach had few restaurants. Now there are more than two dozen, and neighboring Asbury Park boasts many more. The first Blue Marlin had tablecloths. The new one does not.
“I wanted to stay away from anything that cost more money, so I could pass along the savings to customers in the food,” said Reid, who did invest in a needed kitchen update and redesign. The place is decorated with miniature flags of Caribbean countries; that mural of a Caribbean village in the rear dining room; and parachute cloth in orange, brown and cream suspended overhead in the front dining room for a tent-like effect. Reid’s daughter, Tiffany, helps out in the dining rooms on weekends.
Reid calls the menu “Caribbean authentic Jamaican food with my twist.” He refined his technique working in the kitchens of the Fromagerie in Rumson and the Channel Club in Monmouth Beach before opening Blue Marlin.
We sampled two house-made non-alcoholic libations: a nose-tingling ginger beer and a hibiscus drink, both delicious previews of flavors to come. Among appetizers, standouts included tender sautéed shrimp in a spicy/sweet tomato curry, wrapped in roti, the Indian flatbread. Mussels were plump and juicy in their rich broth of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and chopped tomatoes.
The pan-fried, lightly crispy crab cake nicely combined Maryland crabmeat, minced scallions and minimal bread filling. Conch fritters, on the other hand, were densely crusty and tough. Both came with a pleasingly piquant chipotle mayonnaise. The bits of fish in a watery, tomato-based snapper chowder were overwhelmed by large pieces of overcooked carrots and celery.
The simple orange salad proved a table favorite. Overflowing with Boston lettuce, arugula, red onions, endive and orange slices, it was dressed in an herb vinaigrette so tasty that Reid bottles it for commercial distribution. It’s also sold at the restaurant, along with his jerk sauce and hot pepper sauce.
All the fish dishes we tried were excellent, the best being escovitch—a thick curl of fleshy pickled cod, pan fried, deglazed, and served with a delicious, sweet, cooked-cabbage slaw. Red snapper, whole or filleted, can be ordered Jamaican style (pan fried, deglazed with vinegar, topped with tomatoes, onions and garlic) or steamed with a buttery Creole mix of onions, tomatoes and okra. In our tasting, the steamed cod slightly edged out the Jamaican style. In the curried shrimp entrée, large shrimp came with the same curry sauce as the roti, here finished with coconut milk.
Reid’s jerk pork and chicken fared differently. The tender shredded pork more persuasively absorbed the heat of the Scotch-bonnet pepper marinade than did the grilled chicken breast, which was a bit dry and pale in jerk flavor. Curried goat stew (a delight in Jamaica) was tough and gristly, despite spending more than two hours in the Dutch oven. All entrées come with white rice and beans (heavy on the rice) and vegetables. The fried sweet plantains were sufficiently sweet without being greasy.
Less sweet than the sweet plantains was one of the desserts, Jamaican Black Cake, traditionally served at Christmas, weddings and birthdays. I could not resist the finely chopped dried prunes, cherries and dates, soaked in rum and densely packed into the molasses-flavored cake.
A chocolate layer cake with sherry-infused light chocolate mousse was ordinary. At my table, the winner by acclamation was peach rum cake—rum-soaked peaches between layers of fluffy, rum-infused sponge, topped with rum-spiked whipped cream. As Reid noted with a chuckle, “We have a lot of rum in Jamaica.”Click here to leave a comment
Price Details:Appetizers, $6.95-$10.95; entress, $9.95-$24.95; sides, $3.95-$6.95; desserts, $6.95
Ambience:Storefront with island vibe
Service:Upbeat, if stressed at times