Thursday, June 13, 2013

Half Way Tree: A Taste of Jamaica in the Heart of Providence

I love everything about the Caribbean. I love traveling there, whether it's on a cruise ship or dry land, I love the various cultures from island to island, and perhaps most of all I love the food and drinks! One of the most famous Caribbean cuisines is Jamaican (closely matched with Cuban and Puerto Rican).

Most people in the Western World are familiar with Jerk chicken, at least in theory. I have done some Caribbean cooking in my own kitchen on a few occasions, but never shared a recipe for Jerk anything even though I've tried it out a couple times. I wanted to perfect it before sharing it myself.

Until that day comes, I do have an exciting Jamaican culinary discovery to share. I found it in Providence, Rhode Island and it goes by the name Half Way Tree. The name refers to a spot in Kingston, Jamaica where  uptown meets downtown and a huge cotton tree grew until 1866. The Half Way Tree clock tower is prominently featured in the restaurant's logo. The restaurant opened in January 2013 and has since been serving up mouthwatering authentic Jamaican cuisine to Rhode Islanders and additionally has been hosting late night Reggae events on the weekends.

Head chef Shatte Max hails from the Jerk capital of the world, Portland, Jamaica. Jerk chicken and jerk chicken wings (baked, not fried) are a feature on the menu, along with many other traditional Jamaican delights, such as oxtail, curry goat, chicken curry, and brown stew chicken, among others. Depending on the day of the week, there are great specials as well! For example, we stopped in on a Friday afternoon and partook of "Festival Fridays" which offer a free order of festivals (fried fritters) or two free rum punches when ordering two large plates. What a great deal!

We tried the Jerk chicken (of course) as one of our large plates. All the plates come with a side of rice and peas (red beans), a couple slices of fried plantains, and veggies (generally cabbage, I believe). The chicken is grilled so it's perhaps the lightest item on the menu.

Large Jerk Chicken Plate $11

It is succulent and moist with great flavor from the Jerk sauce. An extra tub of Jerk sauce is served on the side, but beware it is extremely spicy so start slow before jumping right in. This is a definite highlight of the menu and a huge reason to return. I only got a small taste of my dining companion's dish, but it was wonderful and I'd happily order my own plate on a future visit.

Large Brown Stew Chicken Plate $11

Additionally, we tried the brown stew chicken, which the waitress heartily recommended. It consists of small pieces of meltingly tender dark-meat chicken braised to perfection in a spiced sauce. While it is not as spicy as the jerk sauce, there is a nice background heat to it. The chicken itself is insane. It was so juicy and flavorful, I thought I died and went to Jamaica!

With a name like "brown stew chicken" it can be easy to pass it up for something else, but I followed my waitress's advice and would never look back. This chicken is perfection. It is what I will forever crave on a rainy day. Although I am very tempted to get my own plate of Jerk chicken on my next visit, or try something else on the menu, such as the oxtail, it will be a challenge to resist more of this brown stew chicken in the future. Absolutely phenomenal.

Fall-off-the-bone tender meat!

If a trip to Jamaica seems a bit far-fetched, a visit to Half Way Tree will at least get your stomach in the right place (at a great price!). I definitely recommend it to anyone in the area who is craving authentic Jamaican food in a vibrant atmosphere decked out in black, green, and gold.

*Update 2/17/15* Half Way Tree has opened in a new, much larger location (address is updated below). The decor is much different than that depicted in these photographs--the new space features a larger bar, pool table, darts, etc--but the food is the same. I don't believe they are offering the same "specials" (such as Festival Fridays) that I've discussed in my post.

Half Way Tree Authentic Jamaican Cuisine
150 Chestnut Street
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 419-6358


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