PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS – It’s mid-morning and Junior Felix, 41, strides into Glady’s Jerk Center and Rum Bar, a recently-opened Jamaican restaurant in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Felix is one of two owners, and the chef. Before all else, he greets his staff with fist-bumps. He is tall, built like an athlete, and quite calm.
The Jerk Center is the second of two ventures, the first of which was launched by Michael Jacober, a 35-year-old Rhode Island native and Crown Heights resident. The original Glady’s is a restaurant located on Lincoln Street and Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights. The Jerk Center is much bigger than the original, but painted with the same assorted tropical pastels, sunny decor, and tastefully spare furniture.
As someone who grew up on the island of St. Lucia, Felix speaks in a throaty French-inflected Caribbean patois. He began cooking at Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean before moving to New York City in 2006.
In 2013, after working a number of food service jobs in Brooklyn, he responded to an ad posted on Craigslist by Jacober. Jacober was running the Morris sandwich truck, and needed a new cook. However, the sandwich truck wouldn’t continue much longer, as Jacober told me, he was already thinking of “getting out of the pretentious sandwich game,” when he met Felix. Together they nurtured the idea for a Jamaican restaurant—one that would become Glady’s.
Jacober and Felix wanted to simulate the flavors and styles of Jamaican cooking, as it is made in Jamaica. Jacober travelled to the island and witnessed the complexity of jerk cooking as it’s done on the beaches of Boston Bay, Jamaica’s mecca of jerk-style cooking.
Jerk chicken, as prepared in Boston Bay, is very similar to American-style barbeque. The meat is rubbed in spices (in this case, clove, habanero peppers, allspice, and thyme), then slow-smoked over hardwood coals for hours. The result is a piquant, pliant, and smoky product. The slow-cooking helps to prevent the meat from getting overcooked.
With Felix’s help, Jacober went about recreating the cooking conditions of Jamaica in Brooklyn. They knew they had to smoke the meat; just grilling meat over gas or charcoal was not enough. They improvised a system to smoke their jerk chicken at the original Glady’s, but the new location boasts a larger, custom designed smoker. “Soon we’ll be smoking the chicken for both restaurants here,” Felix said.
There are some differences between the old Glady’s and the Jerk Center, Felix mentioned. They don’t have bok choy, but instead have steamed cabbage. And they prepare jerk shrimp a little differently, finishing the shrimp by basting it in a fifty-fifty mixture of their jerk sauce and butter. There isn’t table service–the food is ordered at a counter–but the menu is still a la carte. You order your jerked chicken, pork, seitan, or shrimp and then decide which sides you want to mix-and-match with them. The tart and spicy slaw is popular, as is the rice and peas, made with coconut milk.
There’s also much more space at The Jerk Center—it can hold almost 100 more people (130 compared to 38). The bar is licensed to be open until 4am, and with live music and DJs planned, you can imagine the Rum Bar will become a destination for neighbors looking to congregate, relax, and enjoy food and music together.
Felix is business-minded. “We are trying to see what the customer wants, what they like best, and then deliver that,” he told me, but it’s already clear that customers love the chicken. “One guy came in, and when I told him the fresh stuff wouldn’t be ready for three hours, he happily waited at the bar, sipping rum, until the chicken was ready.” It’s not surprising—the chicken is wonderful.
Felix was crucial in honing the cooking methods for Glady’s. Now as a co-owner, “he’s finally getting credit,” Jacober said.
Glady’s Jerk Center & Rum Bar
453 Rogers Avenue (at Lincoln Road), Prospect-Lefferts Gardens
Sunday, 11:30am to 10pm
Monday – Thursday, 11:30am to 10:30pm
Friday & Saturday, 11:30am to 11:30pm