Da Reggae Cafe ensures ‘dem belly full’ and none hungry

by Ryan Snyder

Da Reggae Caf’ ensures ‘dem belly full’ and none hungry

If it’s true that a hungry mob is an angry mob, as the Marley classic goes, then Da Reggae Caf’ might be the place to go to restore order. With only a modest price tag attached to their bona fide island fare, those hungry for some diversity in their palette can load their gullets with plenty of tasty selections from this West Lee Street eatery in Greensboro. The humble furnishings inside are accented by framed posters of your standard reggae icons: Shaggy, Ziggy Marley, his father Bob, among others. Backed by the Royal Philharmonic, John Holt crooned “The Tide is High” from the flat screen TV up above, but it was the likenesses of hardcore/reggae antiheroes Bad Brains that leaped off the walls with a little bit of welcome antagonism for the mellow vibe within. While HR and Dr. Know glared down approvingly, I was greeted by the sweet and attentive waitress who brought beverages, island staple Ting, a carbonated grapefruit soda that’s closer to Orangina than it is Fresca, and a D&G Kola Champagne, a lighter, but just as delicious, cousin to cream soda. With no ABC permits, my desire for a Ting n’ Sting (rum) was put on hold for now, but both were tasty on their own accord. There are only three appetizers to choose from, but the specialty soups and salads available give plenty of options for a quick hitter before the main meal. It’s true that you can find respectable chicken wings at any number of chain feeding troughs, but it’s always the most inconspicuous places that seem to serve up the best. I won’t go as far as to say that Da Reggae Caf’ is atop the wing hierarchy, but the four dollar, six-piece portion would warrant a return trip on its own. As non-greasy as a fried chicken wing can be, the light coating of Jamaican spices sealed in and accented the intense, vaguely coconut-y flavor within each meaty portion. They were served with a side of herbed buttermilk dressing and a homemade, thick-as-gravy jerk sauce that was as spicy as it was sweet, but these wings were so good that either were optional. Feeling adventurous, I chose the stewed oxtails as my main course, with my companion opting for the Irie Mon Curried Chicken. It was obvious that the chicken had endured a painstakingly-long cooking process, as it glowed a radioactive greenish hue from the curry saturation. The bones were in, but the meat was tender enough to be extracted with little effort and though the curry flavor wasn’t intense, it remained on the tongue as long as needed. Both dishes were served with rice and peas (red beans) and a perfectly-seasoned side of firm shredded cabbage. While the rice, steeped in coconut milk, was a bit dry (I did arrive an hour before close), it was instantly revitalized when combined with the sauce from the meat. And then there was the oxtail. It was smothered in a thick, inoffensive brown base that allowed the naturally sweet flavor of the cut to shine, but it was getting to the good parts that took some work.

There’s a certain nuance to enjoying oxtail that could easily escape the more inhibited epicurean. Going at them with a knife and fork will only leave one frustrated after seeing the tender bits tucked in the crannies, inaccessible when holding to customary decorum. To truly experience oxtails, one must set aside whatever reservations they have about engaging in objectionable eating practices. Grasp with both hands and gently suction the meat right off the bone; that’s the only way to get the yummy, gelatinous bits that characterize this criminally-disregarded cut. Bonus: There’s often a cavity inside the bone where sealed up juices are stored, and approaching it in this manner will inevitably yield the intensely flavored cache. Desserts are provided by a local baker name Auntie Mae, with various poundcakes and bread puddings to choose from. The coconut buttercream cake I chose had a delicious, creamy icing, though the consistency of the cake itself was somewhat lacking. Regardless, there are enough reasons to find yourself back at Da Reggae Caf’ if it’s a full belly you seek.

Stewed oxtails at Da Reggae Caf’, one of the few places in the Triad to offer this succulent cut. (photo by Ryan Snyder)