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A mighty meal at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant 

Caribbean Heritage Restaurant may have only opened in the beginning of March, but it was a long time coming. Owner Lorna Underwood started a catering company called Mighty Good Food, LLC in 1996. Besides "Mighty" being Lorna's maiden name, it also describes the strength of her passion for cooking and generosity. Over the years she's had a loyal clientele base, but she also had to balance her work with taking care of her family and working full time in some unfulfilling jobs that intensified her smoldering desire to open a standalone restaurant. The opportunity finally arose, and the time was right to strike out. Everything seemed to fall into place as if by providence.

Located less than a mile from the Ford Street roundabout on Plymouth Ave, Caribbean Heritage resides in what was formerly Fusion 4 Restaurant. When I visited, most of the tables were full, and the bar stayed packed with folks eating or waiting on their take-away orders. Despite the busyness, everyone was having a good time and laughing and sharing stories while waiting for their food.

click to enlarge Oxtail, a Jamaican staple, is on the menu at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Oxtail, a Jamaican staple, is on the menu at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant.

Entering the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was The Heritage Room, a separate dining area with three walls of windows. All of the light of the day shines in, and it feels like you're on a wrap-around porch on a summer day, even if it is actually cold and snowy outside. And let's be honest: this is Rochester, there's like a 60 percent chance it's going to be cold and snowy. We all need a bright, sunny respite, and this spot would make for a perfect brunch with friends.

The bartender-host gave me a hearty handshake before showing me a menu, and it turned out that he was Caribbean Heritage's co-owner Jerome Underwood, Lorna's husband. Jerome emphatically told me that this restaurant is all Lorna's hard work come to fruition, and the family that she raised is enthusiastic about helping her, be it in the kitchen or on the floor.

Lorna is from Jamaica, Jerome is from Antigua and Barbuda, and their collective family is from all corners of the Caribbean, which is where they learned and honed their culinary skills. Even the restaurant's logo reflects their heritage: the pineapple is the national fruit of Antigua and also the international symbol of hospitality. The logo is the top half of the pineapple to symbolize a crown, as they intend to treat everyone who comes through their doors like royalty.

And a royal feast, I did have. I started with a cup of vegetable soup ($4), because people at the bar had been raving about. And it deserves all the accolades. The soup is a pumpkin based, and filled with a medley of potato, butternut squash, potato, celery, zucchini, and mild spices that rounded out the flavor. The main course I had of curried cod with plantains and vegetables ($12) was a surprise to me, as I had not had the dish in over a decade. There is something to be said for a decent sized piece of cod stewed in a hearty curry sauce. The key to a good cod filet is to not overcook it. As little as a minute too long, and you wind up with rubber. But here the filet was both fluffy and flaky, and nearly melted in my mouth. The joy of eating the zucchini and squash and plantains, which had been sitting in the curry sauce while I was distracted by the cod and my own nostalgia, was a bonus.

click to enlarge Roasted zucchini and butternut squash at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Roasted zucchini and butternut squash at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant.

Though I was nearly full, there was no way I was going to leave without having a slice of the black cake ($4). This is a signature rum-soaked fruit cake that Lorna makes and many love. I can see why. The cake is dense and sweet, and the rum she uses gives it a bold aftertaste. Our photographer enjoyed a juicy, tender oxtail with rice ($14), a Jamaican staple. We both left Caribbean Heritage Restaurant satisfied.

What stood out most to me about my visit to Caribbean Heritage Restaurant is that when Lorna Underwood described her joy in opening the space, she said that when she enters the kitchen, it feels like she is at home cooking for her family. It shows in the dishes she served and the feel of the place, and I will take being treated like family any day.

click to enlarge The broccoli and carrots plate and fried plantains at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The broccoli and carrots plate and fried plantains at Caribbean Heritage Restaurant.

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