For Part Two of my culinary tour of SOMA’s best breakfasts, I went the ethnic route. Warning: these meals are not for the light eater, though they seem especially apropos in this Siberia-like winter we are soldiering through. Read on for the delicious, stick-to-your-ribs results.
Despite all the great reviews and word-of-mouth, I somehow had never managed to get around to visiting this cheery Jamaican place on Irvington Avenue in South Orange. I’m glad I finally rectified that the other morning.
Reid Taylor and wife Sophia (aka “Munchie” and the restaurant’s head chef) are about as warm and welcoming as two people can be. I was feeling seriously under the weather that day, and the plate of Ackee and Saltfish that they put in front of me perked me right up. “This is the national breakfast of Jamaica,” said Reid.
Ackee is a red-skinned fruit that when cooked, turns soft and creamy with a texture akin to scrambled eggs. It is served mixed with chunks of saltfish (salted cod). The dish was accompanied by tender and flavorful Callaloo, which is my new favorite green vegetable – at least when cooked by Sophia. The plate was rounded out by perfectly fried plantains, yams, boiled green banana and a dense dumpling. (“They bury you with starches in Jamaica,” said Reid).
Taking pity on my red nose and scratchy voice, Reid handed me a bowl of steaming cornmeal porridge. It is like the best cream of wheat you’ve ever had, times a hundred. Made luscious from condensed milk and perfumed with nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla, this porridge is pure comfort in a bowl. Meet Ried and Sophia in the video above.
Maplewood Deli Costarricense:
Run by Yolanda Barrantes and her son Victor, this deli next to the Maplewood Police Station reminds me of the beach joints I used to visit in western Puerto Rico. To say that the place is bare-bones is putting it mildly. I half expected to see an island dog wander in looking for scraps.
The absence of décor gave me high hopes for a truly “authentico” breakfast, and I wasn’t disappointed. Victor served me a hefty platter of Gallo Pinto with Egg, Avocado, Sweet Plantain and Cheese – a traditional morning meal in Costa Rica. The eggs were expertly fried and runny in the center, the better to drip into the yummy rice and beans flecked with cilantro. The cheese, also fried, was like a saltier version of mozzarella.
As I struggled to finish this gargantuan meal, Victor told me that this type of breakfast in Costa Rica was originally created for “people working in the mountains.” Makes sense to me. (located at 1628 Springfield Avenue; no website)
Piast, also on Springfield Avenue just off Prospect Street in Maplewood, is best-known for its top-notch sausages and smoked meats, as well as for its imported Polish grocery items. But it’s also a hidden breakfast-on-the-go gem. Their cakey jelly doughnuts (paczek) and succulent poppy seed pastries (makowiec) are a great way to kick off the day.
When I stopped in for a snack on a frigid weekday morning, a handful of customers were gabbing in Polish and the smell of smoked meat filled the air. Sadly, they were out of the cherry-cheese babka that day, giving me an excuse to come by again. Next time, I’ll also be sure to pick up some frozen pierogi. I grabbed a cup of strong coffee and a paczek, and headed back out into the frozen tundra that passes for Baristaville these days.