Head to the Island for a vast array of tasty choices

EATS

Dining For $25 Or Less

December 06, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

So there we were at the counter of Judy's Island Grill & Bake Shop, struggling to narrow down our choices. Did we want the curried shrimp ($15) or the jerk fish ($15)? The oxtail stew ($10) or the goat soup ($6)? And which sides would we have with our entrees? A pan of macaroni and cheese sure looked appealing, as did the fried plantains. And then there were the drinks -- pineapple-ginger punch, sorrel juice, carrot juice and fruit punch.

We asked the woman behind the counter for some advice and finally placed our order. Still, we weren't done. Did we want large portions or small? Spicy or mild? It took a pleasurable while to work out the finer points of what we would eat.

As we waited for our food alongside a smattering of other customers, someone else walked in. Clearly, she was more knowledgeable about Judy's than we were. She greeted the woman behind the counter by name and confidently ordered the conch soup. Large ($8).

As she raved about the soup, the woman who had taken our order couldn't help but notice the looks of yearning on our faces. This sounded like a treasure not to be missed. Would we like a sample, she asked us? Um, yes.

She gave us each a tiny cup of the steaming yellow brew. Now, I know everything tastes better when you're hungry, but this was good stuff, richly seasoned and almost gelatinous in texture, with plenty of chewy bits of conch meat.

Homemade, generously flavored and served with a smile, the soup was a fitting prelude to the meal that followed. The chunks of tender meat in the curried goat stew ($9.50), some on the bone, were nestled in a perfumed, velvety sauce. The brightly seasoned (and yellow) curried shrimp sat atop a rich mix of onions and peppers. The roasted chicken ($8.50) was all moist meat beneath crackly deep-brown skin.

All entrees came with two sides, plus three or four slices of fried plantain, sweet and steaming hot, cooked to a wonderful firm-tender consistency. We loved the mellow flavors of the eggplant stew, the decadence of the butter-fried cabbage, the subtle smokiness of the beans and rice.

The only misfire was potato salad, a classic mayo and mustard concoction that simply didn't fit with the rest of the food. Why waste time on this when so many other items beg to be tried? The restaurant, one of several Caribbean eateries near Pimlico, has a decent-sized dining area, but it's set up more as a takeout business.

Even customers who eat in place their orders at the counter, then carry foam containers laden with food to their tables, where they eat with flimsy plastic knives and forks and attempt to catch their various drips and spills in tiny paper napkins.

The drinks and desserts are just as special as the main courses. Pineapple-ginger juice ($6 for a large) is one of several drinks made in-house and tastes of ginger, not some chemical substitute. The sorrel juice ($4) has a cranberrylike brightness and strikes a refreshing balance between sweet and tart.

Desserts include Judy's Famous Rum Cake ($3), which deserves the accolade. The deep-brown cake is moist and vaguely citrusy, utterly unlike the overly sweet confections served at most restaurants. Bread pudding ($2), also homemade, was overly dense and not nearly as good.

Judy's also serves daily specials, plus a breakfast menu of ackee, saltfish, porridge and other classic island fare. If you're not sure what to order, the regular customers seem happy to make suggestions.

Judy's Island Grill & Bake Shop

Where:

5216 Park Heights Ave.

Call:

410-367-0272

Open:

9 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday

Credit cards:

All major

Prices:

Appetizers $1-$5, entrees $6.50-$15

Food:

*** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)

Service:

*** (3 stars)

Atmosphere:

** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.