Over the years, there have been at least half a dozen moments when I had conversations with Caribbean people all over the city who told me to come to Ripe Kitchen and Bar. People in Westchester County storage units, bars in the Bronx, and even randomly in Brooklyn spoke of it as the city's gold standard for Caribbean food. It has remained on my list of places, attaining somewhat mythical status during this time. Hearing of the backyard, I always wanted to bring a group here and enjoy the outdoor space, but getting friends up to the last station in Wakefield and then still needing a dollar van ride or a long walk to arrive is somewhat difficult.
Finally in the past two months I have come here twice, although not with big groups as desired. The first time was before the beginning of Copa America, hoping the spot would be all fired up for games of the Reggae Boys, Jamaica's national team. Unfortunately the TV in the small bar area here is forever turned to a general interest Caribbean channel that no one pays attention to, the crowd finely tuned in for just the food and drinks. I hung around, had a couple of Guinness bottles while watching people down glasses of their famous house made rum punch, and eventually had the jerk steak quesadilla ($8.95, not pictured), the only dish I could think about eating standing up.
That appetizer big enough to be a main was not amazing and seemed a bit out of place for sure, but it was tasty and I enjoyed spending more time to people watch. The place was almost heaving with people revelling in happy hour and coming for dinner. I could not wait to come back, sit down, and have a proper meal.
If you do come, it is much more likely that a table is available inside and there is a wait for the patio. Take a drink at the bar if you can find space, and put your name on the waitlist, as the interior of the place is much less appealing as the lovely backyard.
Come here in a relaxed mood, maybe as if you were in the Caribbean already. The service can be a bit like it might be on one of the islands, always friendly but even more relaxed than your mood at times. With time, meals here are perfect, without it you may be frustrated.
The cocktail list has an assortment of interesting drinks, including the classic mojito ($9, above), which comes garnished with plenty of fruit and a thick wedge of sugar cane. As mentioned earlier, most of those around you will be enjoying the pink rum punch, and will recommend it to you at every opportunity.
We got into a conversation with the couple next to us halfway through our meal when the verbose woman said something that made everyone around giggle. She eventually recommended her plate, Ripe's "Big-Ass" Jerk Rib-Eye Steak ($22.95, not pictured), apparently the reason so many people come here due to its inclusion on some food show.
For a first proper meal at Ripe, we could not turn down Ripe's original "backyard" jerk chicken ($8.30 for 1/4 chicken, above), served with choice of white rice or rice and beans. It is good, and the jerk sauce it comes with would be great on anything. They cook their jerk here with less char and crisp than you usually see, letting the marinade and bird speak louder.
The Kingston curried goat ($12.95, below) comes with a warning that it is served "just like it would be in Jamaica" which just means it still is attached to the bones. I do not remember ever eating curry goat off the bone, so this warning (let's call it a diss) seems aimed at crowds more used to meals at McDonald's rather than Jamaicans. The curry itself is warm and rich and feels so real somehow. It was the highlight of our two plate meal for sure, and I could not imagine coming back and not having it again.
Outside on the patio is also a big jerk smoker and bar that was not in use on a Tuesday night. On weekends, the afternoon and evening parties here must be really lively, with the wonderful smells that come from the kitchen and grill and the rum punch flowing.
Ripe Kitchen and Bar is actually in Mount Vernon, a couple blocks north of the Bronx, but I have included it in both categories because it seems to belong to both places. New York City travelers can reach the restaurant by taking the 2 train to Wakefield or Nereid and walking 20 minutes or so, or getting off at 233rd Street and catching the dollar van that runs up Edenwald Avenue.