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Berkeley: Flavah Island Cafe - Jamaican breakfast, spinners, patties, festival and garlic shrimp with basil tomato concasse

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Jamaican Soul is gone and so is the funk. The restaurant has a cleaner, more contemporary look. The tables all match, the floor was redone and there is no rotating art show,only the brick walls.

Flavah Island is now in that spot next to Local 123. On Sunday they will be starting breakfast with a few standard low-priced American breakfast items such as

$2.99 - Pancake stax - four pancakes topped with fresh berries and a choice of chicken basil sausage or turkey bacon

The menu also says "Daily choice of Jaimaican breakfast favorites (prices vary)"

I'll post the menu in the first reply

While there are still some steam table items, gone is the pick and choose buffet of Jamaican Soul.

Today I had the curried goat and a ginger beer

The non-carbonated ginger beer was very good with nice ginger flavor and burn.

The goat curry was lively with spice. There were beef stew sized pieces of bone-in goat. It came with four slices of standard fried plantains, a carrot cabbage slaw dressed with oil and some tasty beans and rice which they top with a green sauce if you would like. While there was a liberal use of oil, it was a tasty lunch. My lips are tingly and my tongue is still warm with spice.

I caught a glimpse of the Jamaican patties that someone ordered. They looked good.

The menu says that spinners are traditional Jamaican dumplings. They are served with the braised oxtail.

They said they are under new management but I got a little lost as to what that meant. If there were new owners or just a new direction.

Flavah Island Cafe
2057 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA
(510) 704-4083

Hours
Daily: 7:30 am - 8 pm daily (however, since they just opened, I'd call to check)

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Jamaican Soul
2057 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

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  1. Flavah Island Cafe & Juice Bar Menu

    BREAKFAST

    Fruit Platter $3.99
    Trio of melon attractively arranged, garnished with citrus segments and drizzled with passion fruit syrup

    Omelete Florentine $4.95
    Two egg omelet filled with spinach, cheddar, green onion, bell pepper and herbs. Served with choice of sausage or bacon

    Creole Omelet $3.99
    Three eggs with herbed salsa filling. Served with choice of sausage or bacon

    Pancake Stax $2.99
    Stack of four creamy pancakes topped with fresh berries served with choice of bacon or sausage

    Two eggs any style with choice of chicken basil sausage or turkey bacon $2.99

    Steak and potatoes $5.99
    Grilled flank steak & caramelized onions served with potatoes

    Daily choice of Jamaican breakfast favorites (prices vary)

    All egg entrees served with toast and choice of house-made country potatoes or grits

    LUNCH/DINNER

    APPETIZER

    Codfish Fritter $3
    Dried salted cod in light batter seasoned with herbs, scallions and thyme and fried to a golden crispiness

    Cocktail Patties $4
    Flaky Jamaican savory pastry filled with spicy ground beef and baked 'till golden

    Ackee on Toast $4.50
    Our national fruit in a saute of onions, tomatoes, green onions and peppers served on garlic crostini

    Sampler Platter $10.50
    A combination plate of appetizers with house made dips

    ENTREES.

    Jerked Chicken $7.95
    White or dark meat quarter marinated in traditional island herbs, spices and seasonings and slow-grilled

    JamAsian Stir Fry (with chicken $5.95) (with cashews/tofu $4.95)
    Wok tossed noodles, vegetables, green onions and crushed garlic finished with house-made pickapeppa/soy glaze

    Curried goat $8.95
    Succulent cubes of goat marinated in a spicy curry blend and simmered to perfection

    Braised Oxtail $8.95
    Pan browned beef-tail served with pan drippings, broad beans, vegetables and spinners (traditional Jamaiican dumplings)

    Shrimp Island Style $7.95
    Garlic shrimp in a tomato concasse

    Escovietched Fish (sic) $7.95
    Pan fried filet of tilapia with sauteed seasoning herbs and spices deglazed with spicy cane vinaigrette

    Ackee & Codfish $12
    Delectable tree ripened ackees in a saute of salted cod, onions, green onions, tomatoes and a blend of house spices

    Ital Stew $6.95
    Black-eye peas and a bouquet of vegetables simmered in a coconut cream sauce seasoned with fresh thyme

    Rasta Pasta $7.95
    Whole wheat pasta, garbanzo beans, bell peppers, basil, spices and seasonings in a soy cream sauce

    All entrees served with rice 'n' beans, island slaw and plantains except noodle and pasta

    SIDES

    Jamaican patties $2.50
    Fried Plantains $2
    Festival $1.50

    DESSERT SELECTION AVAILABLE

    REFRESHMENTS

    Smoothies $2.50
    Juices $3
    Sorrel $2
    Ginger beer $2

    15% gratuity on groups of 10 or more

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      I pass by this place all the time on my way for coffee at 123, so I finally decided to give it a try. I was tempted by the jerked chicken (saw some lovely spice-covered whole chickens that they'd just put on the grill), but ended up ordering the braised oxtail. It was excellent. Really flavorful (but not spicy at all, unlike many of the other offerings) and fall-off-the-bone tender. A decent-sized, but not huge portion. The sides (plantains, salad, rice and beans) were all fine, but the rice and beans were particularly tasty. Comfort food.

      I liked this rendition much better than a similar oxtail dish I had at DeClancy's back when it was open. A satisfying dinner for just $8.95.

      The menu description says the dish comes with spinners (Jamaican dumplings), but I didn't notice any in the dish. When I asked the chef/owner about it, he said that some people had complained that they didn't like them, so he took them out of the dish. He said that they're kind of like the dumplings you get in chicken and dumplings, and soak up all the flavor from the braising liquid. I told him I thought that sounded great. "Well, Americans don't seem to like them," he said. Maybe if a few more people ask for them, he'll bring them back? Seemed like a nice fellow.

      As rworange mentioned, the house-made ginger beer is really good--the first non-carbonated version of the drink I've tried, but it almost tastes like it's carbonated because it has such a kick. Very strong, but pleasantly so, not too overpowering. I would go back just to drink this.

      Definitely want to give the jerk chicken a try too.

      Anyone tried the breakfast yet? I always pass by fairly early in the morning and see that it's open, but I've never seen anyone eating in there.

      -----
      Flavah Island Cafe
      2057 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

      1. re: abstractpoet

        Sounds great."The spinners" (and not the 70's musical group)are the best part of Jamaican dishes from your braised oxtail to Ital veg stews.Simply prepared and delicious.Hope the chef/owner puts them back on the menu.Go Yardie.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          I needed to go out early this morning so I stopped by and got the $2.99 breakfast - 2 eggs any style, potatoes or grits, chicken basil sausage or turkey bacon, slice of Texas toast.

          While waiting I had a glass of sorrel which was nice, very gingery. With Jamaican joints I've never had carbonated ginger beer, it is always non-carbonated.

          Anyway, looking closer at the menu, I noticed the Jamaican breakfast option after the fact. I asked about that. He said he was planning to start that on Sunday. He is also adding Jamaican soups to the menu next Friday. Seems like the prices which seem reasonable are a little high for the local Jamaicans, so he is adding the soup so they can have a low cost filling meal.

          The Jamaican breakfast will have greens, fish, festivals and mashed plaintans. It seems he was really into plaintains today. He talked lovingly about how the juices of the other items mix with the mashed plaintains and it was so good.

          Ackee and Salt cod will be available. He said that Jaimacan breakfasts are not as protein packed as American breakfast. One other breakfast dish he mentioned was pickled mackarel. That's a new one to me. He talked a little about how the food evolved from when Jamaicans were slaves and how they made delicious food out of very little.

          Anyway, as to the breakfast, He did ask if I wanted a soft scramble ... I don't. He did an excellent job of the eggs. They were very creamy and mixed with bits of chopped onion and pepper. I enjoyed those a lot. As to the potatoes and sausage ... my advice is to choose the grits and bacon instead.The potatoes were overcooked and rewarmed. The sausage were a bit dry as chicken sausage sometimes is.

          One of these days, I'll give his pancakes a try ... right after I have that Jamaican breakfast.

          1. re: rworange

            Tried the Jamaican breakfast which had ackee with salted cod, collard greens, plantain slices, collard greens and two festivals.

            Not sure of the exact price, but I got $11 and change back from a $20 and $1.50 of that was for coffee. Somewhere around $7 if tax is factored in.

            It was the type of dish that reminds me of home kitchens no matter what ethnicity. Tasty, personal, maybe not perfect but satisfying. There's no smack of Sysco here.

            The ackee was fried with sliced onions and peppers with bits of salt cod that gave flavor without calling attention to themselves. I mopped up the oily tasty pan juices with two fat, dense festivals. These are biscuits but with heft. They had a nice thin brown crust. The collard greens had a bit of nutmeg in it.

            Ackee looks like scrambled eggs though it doesn't taste like eggs and the texture is a bit different. Though I haven't has a lot of ackee, it was as good as any I've tried.

            The people at the table next to me were going on about how good the creole omelet was. It seems he is sensitive to people that are not Jamaican and was worried about the spice. It was fine with those diners who also liked the from scratch pancakes with a bit of nutmeg in them.

            The coffee is along the lines of donut shop coffee, but the mug was large and refills were generous.

            1. re: rworange

              Sounds like the chef is making some really tasty food at great prices.Ackee(the fruit of an evergreen tree brought to Jamaica from West Africa) is one of my favorite exotic foods on earth.I'm not a fan of eggs so ackee is a nice breakfast option.Ackee and salt fish is the Jamaican national dish,served with green banana,yam and dumpling(all known as"food")Sometimes roast breadfruit too.Ackee and cabbage is a nice ital(natural veg)version.Fresh ackee is the best,but not allowed brought into the US,as,if not prepared properly,is poisonous.Canned ackee is dear,$14 a tin.Available at Arts Jamaican Market in Oakland and other Caribbean markets.

              Festival(no s on the end of the word) is a sweetened fried cornmeal dumpling.It's sweetness is meant to compliment the spiciness or savoriness of the food it's served with such as jerk chicken,fried fish or ackee and salt fish.It's said to be so delicious it's like a festival in your mouth.

              I wish Flavah Island Cafe much success and am looking forward to trying it.So many West Indian restaurants have come and gone in the bay area.Except for Chef Clive's Sweet Fingers in San Leandro and Chef Robert's Back a Yard in Menlo Park,I can't think of another W.I. restaurant that's operating,that serves an authentic menu.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ackee
              http://www.getjamaica.com/Jamaican%20...

              -----
              Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill
              1189 Willow Rd, Menlo Park, CA 94025

              Art's Jamaican Market (now Minto's
              )4042 Broadway, Oakland, CA

              Sweet Fingers
              464 E 14th St, San Leandro, CA 94577

              1. re: rworange

                That Jamaican breakfast is well worth trying--loved the salt cod in that dish. He didn't have any festivals available yet early this morning, so I don't know if he charged me a little bit less. (It came out to $5.99 before tax and tip.)

                In any case, I thought it was still a very good deal, especially since the entree version of the ackee and codfish dish is $12.

        2. Just back from lunch. I had the escovitched fish which was excellent. Really interesting spices with a bit of a kick, but not at all overpowering. The rice and beans on the side was really nice too. And another thumbs up for the ginger beer. My friend has the jerk chicken with a sorrel drink -- both were good. Service was laid back -- almost on island time -- but totally friendly. He just gave us a side of fried plantains out of the blue.

          What an improvement over the old place.

          1. Tried the ackee on toast for lunch today. Never had ackee before, so I have no frame of reference but found it quite interesting (especially texture-wise) and tasty. The resemblance to scrambled eggs is, indeed, uncanny. Taste-wise, it reminded me somewhat of fried tomato--or was I tasting something else that was mixed in with the ackee?

            I was going to try a patty too, but they were out, so I opted for the codfish fritters instead. Very good, fried to perfection, served with some kind of spicy ketchup (not sure if it's from a bottle or their own concoction). A really generous portion for $3. Kind of like hush puppies but flatter and a bit chewier.

            1. Really positive experience here too. Had the ackee and codfish and it was delicious. The sorrel was also tasty. I did notice a bit of carbonation in my friend's ginger beer, but much less than you'd expect from a soda - more like they gave it a spritz of seltzer water. The drink is opaque, closer in appearance to lemonade than Canada Dry.

              Only quibbles were: 1) they took at least 30 minutes to make the dishes and served other tables first even though they arrived later, but it's understandable for a restaurant still finding its feet. They were nice enough to give us slightly bigger portions and free refills on the drinks to make up for the long cooking time. 2) my friend had the pasta and did not really care for it....but this is one case where I feel it was his fault for ordering a clearly out-of-place menu item. I could have seen from a mile off that this dish was an attempt to play to the neighborhood, rather than stick with the traditional Jamaican dishes that they do best.

              1. Lunch with daughter who had the Ital Stew with beans and rice,fried plantain and spinach carrot salad, declared delicious. Me, freshly made Cocktail Patties with hot sauce a side plate of freshly fried plantains and ginger beer, all also delicious. Had a taste of goat curry for dessert, also good.

                1. I had breakfast here a while back and just realized I never posted a review. This was hands down one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. I actually can't believe I have not been back, will have to make it out next week maybe. I'm not a big fan of American breakfasts since I don't eat pork and am not into sweet breakfasts. I ordered the Jamaican breakfast, I actually did not notice it on the menu, but knew that is what I wanted from RW's post. The man seemed a little taken a back like he was not prepared for that request, but told me it would take 5 to 10 minutes, which was actually more like 15- 20 minutes but a pleasant wait.. He also asked if I wanted fish, which turned out to be the best part so definitely say yes if you eat fish.

                  My breakfast was almost identical to RW but I did not have the greens or the festivals. I have never had ackee or salted codfish or any Jamaican food so I can't compare it but I am a sucker for sauteed onions and peppers, the addition of that salted codfish was just perfect. I wish I had gotten festivals to mop up the oil, but I stole some of my daughter's pancakes which were thick and not that sweet so they worked perfectly. Mine also came with some plantains, but not mashed, the sweetness of the plantains balanced out the oily ackee perfectly.

                  On a side note the owner is a very nice guy. I ordered my four year old daughter the $2.99 pancakes with turkey bacon. She inhaled the bacon, and when the man came over to see if we needed anything my daughter calmly replied, yes more bacon please! Despite my protests that she didn't need anymore he brought her another slice on the house. I made sure to leave a generous tip and our bill was still only $12 I believe my breakfast must have been cheaper then RW because of the lack of collards and festivals, but I would definitely pay extra for the festivals next time, you need something to mop up all the delicious oily bits!

                  -----
                  Flavah Island Cafe
                  2057 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: elliora

                    Thanks for the report back. The festivals are on the menu as a side. I think I got them because I specifically asked if he had festivals. On my first visit he wasn't doing those yet.

                    The pancakes are on my to-try list so I appreciate the report. I also have been meaning to stop by to try the soup. He was planning to add soup to the menu.

                    1. re: elliora

                      I did get some festivals with my meal the second time I ordered the ackee and codfish Jamaican breakfast, so I think it might just be a matter of whether he has them ready or not on that particular morning (the first time I'd asked about them, and he didn't have them yet). Don't know if there was difference in price or not. With the festivals, it's a HEARTY breakfast--almost more than I could finish. But, with or without the festivals, that ackee and codfish hits the spot every time.

                      Haven't been to this place for a few weeks, and I do worry if he's getting enough business. Every time I've eaten there, there's been at most one or two other tables occupied, and a couple of times it's just been me. Seems like he's playing around with various specials to attract business--last time I passed by he was doing a $3.99 chicken curry as a lunch special.

                    2. Nice review in the East Bay Express. Hope it brings them some business
                      http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/ack...

                      This was interesting ...

                      "Ediwards, who used to cook at Jamaican resorts, makes traditional dishes .... and his popular braised oxtail — based on his aunt's and grandmother's recipes"

                      Has anyone tried the oxtail?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rworange

                        Yup. Along with the ackee and codfish, it's the best thing I've had there. Still working on him to put the spinners back in, though.

                      2. Ate here finally again today. My experience this time though was a bit mixed, although the food was good as ever. I came at noon and sat down with a menu, I was thinking of getting the oxtail but had been dreaming about my last breakfast. I asked the waitress (new this time, last time it was just the owner) if it was still possible to get the jamaican breakfast. She asked the owner who said it would be fine, but it would take 10-12 minutes.

                        I should have remembered my last post! I was the only one in there and it took 25-30 minutes to get my food. Considering I only had had a half hour to eat it put a real damper on my meal. No apology was offered or even an acknowledgment of the lateness. I could see if the place is packed, but when it's the only meal you are cooking the dish takes 10 minutes to cook or it takes half an hour. A lady who came in after me ordered the jerk chicken and it took two minutes to get out to her. I know mine was a special order and I appreciated them being flexible, but it would have been nice to get a choice.

                        Anyways I'm digressing, the real star again was the ackee and codfish. Really this stuff is like crack to me. It was spicy this time which i don't remember from last time, but i loved the extra kick. It came with four slices of plantains, only one of which was caramelized properly but they were still delicious. I also ordered a side of festivals this time since I didn't have my daughter with me to steal pancakes from. I'm not sure what they are supposed to taste like but the dough in the middle was still raw tasting. I really can't imagine this dish without some kind of bread product, it is just so rich and oily.

                        My second surprise came with my bill. The price this time was $7.50 plus $1.50 for the festivals. Quite a big jump from my last time and the same price RW paid but her dish came with the festivals and greens.

                        Don't get me wrong this place is amazing based on this one dish alone, I would not hesitate to come here again. However they are still really slow and I could see another person in my shoes maybe not returning no matter how good the food is. I want them to succeed and hope they can make it work

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: elliora

                          Yeah, it's not a place for a quick meal, which is probably something the owner/chef should address if he wants to get more lunch business. He's always been willing to make that breakfast for me past noon as well, but I've never been in a huge rush.

                          I also think the place could benefit from better lighting, or windows that are less tinted. I mentioned in another thread that every time I walk past, the restaurant just looks closed. (And sometimes it IS closed. Does anyone know what the official opening time is now, or if there is even a set time? I've gone by a couple times at 8:00 a.m. wanting breakfast, and it hasn't been open, which was frustrating. But I've definitely eaten there at around that time before.)

                          I think the pricing of the "Jamaican breakfast" and what it actually contains has always been a bit vague, He doesn't even have an official code for it programmed into the cash register. I think I've always paid the same price (which, I should note, is very reasonable), but sometimes it comes with the festivals and sometimes not. And sometimes he gives me some toast or some potatoes instead.

                          He should probably just spell it out on the menu, especially since I've never been offered any other kind of Jamaican breakfast besides the ackee and codfish plate -- so it isn't exactly a daily special type of thing, which may have been how he had originally envisioned the breakfasts. I bet part of the problem is that there isn't a ton of business for breakfast, and the handful of us diehards on this board may be among the few that'll order the Jamaican breakfast regularly.

                          Incidentally, I too have found the festivals to be a bit raw-tasting. Does anyone know if that's just how they're supposed to be? In any case, I find them to be the weakest part of that breakfast. But the ackee and codfish ... as noted ... just delicious. And I don't actually mind eating it without a starch. Washing it down with a ginger beer helps cut the grease -- yes, even at breakfast.

                          BTW, Elliora, you should give Chef Edwards your feedback the next time you're there. My sense is that he's pretty open to suggestions and has already tweaked his menu based on what people have said. I'm sure he'd appreciate hearing the pluses and minuses of your experience, especially since you seem to like the restaurant on the whole.

                        2. Passed by Flavah Island this morning and saw that the sign had been taken down and the windows were all covered up with newspaper. Note on the window says that a new Italian restaurant (Cucina Italiana or something like that) will be opening there.

                          It's too bad, but given the lack of business (and thin margins he must have been operating on), I can't say I'm surprised. Hopefully Chef Edwards can land on his feet and get a new gig in the area, even if it's not at his own place.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: abstractpoet

                            what a damn shame. ive been there a couple of times and each time i was the only customer. im going to miss that ackee and codfish!

                            1. re: abstractpoet

                              The Italian place was open today. I forget the name. Startlingly low prices.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Started with an L. And yeah, the prices looked really low. Lighting is still pretty dim.

                                1. re: abstractpoet

                                  Luca Cucina Italiana with review by evacarleton.
                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/762757