A Jamaican restaurant in Apopka? I suppose it won’t be long before we’ll be gorging on lutefisk and köttbullar in a Swedish bistro in Pine Hills. Yes, a Jamaican joint nestled in a strip mall in the heart of Fern City may seem unlikely, but C & C has been garnering some low-key buzz among Central Florida Caribs since opening three years ago. Is it worth the drive to Apopka? That all depends on your proximity to Pine Hills, where a majority of the area’s best Caribbean cuisine can be had.
Not to say the food here isn’t on par with establishments on West Colonial Drive or Silver Star Road – it is, and the décor is certainly on equal footing. Walls are swathed in requisite yellow-and-green and bear obligatory photos of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie. Head-bopping is a foregone conclusion, given the infectious reggae-driven vibes resounding from the boombox near the counter. On weekends, the five additional speakers lying in wait are put to use and the restaurant transforms into C & C music factory.
Owner Clifton Campbell’s initials light up the restaurant’s marquee, though the letters could also stand for Cabbage & Codfish or Curry & Chicken. The chicken, by the way, is best enjoyed curried or jerked, not fried, as I ordered the chicken gizzards ($3.49). The little orbs of bird belly were too crisp and too rubbery a chew for my liking, though the fault lay squarely on my palate, not the kitchen.
Beef patties ($1.50) and jerk chicken ($6) are the sine qua non of Windies cuisine, and both are deftly prepared here. The spicy patties, though not the best I’ve ever had, were appetizing and tinged with a hint of sweetness. I only wished they were a bit more substantial and flakier. The chicken, jumped-up with peppery (and addictive) jerk seasoning, turned my meal into a ravenous affair, the juicy slabs of chicken packing a savory wallop. It’s one of those dishes you want to devour bone-clean, no matter how full you are, but the side of fluffy rice and peas (aka red beans) and springy cabbage-and-carrot slaw made it a difficult endeavor. Diners can also opt to enjoy any of their dinners with traditional hard dough bread, a loaf with a mass and consistency similar to pound cake.
Goat soup ($3) contained more bones and fat than meat, but the piping hot broth was propped up by yams, potatoes, carrots and a Scotch bonnet zing, making for a splendid succession of slurps. The curried goat ($6.50) made up for the soup’s ruminant deficiency, but sucking the wondrously gelatinous marrow out of the bones provided the most enjoyable moments.
Other specialties like cow foot, jerk pork, oxtails and red snapper escovich are offered, as is Jamaica’s national dish – ackee and codfish – for breakfast. The decision to include chicken wings on the menu may have been precipitated by the wing joint next door, though there’s no telling how many customers they’ve managed to attract from the other side. Fresh cane juice is, sadly, absent, as are desserts, though a bottle of Ting ($1.50), a tart grapefruit beverage, and a side order of sweet caramelized plantains ($1.99), proved to be worthy substitutes.
As expected, the friendly waitstaff are about as relaxed and laid-back as patrons in a Dutch café, and the handful of tables is often filled with regulars, most of whom get together, then feel all right.