Like a laser directed drone strike, Gerry’s eyes found their target on the menu of the Coconut Palm Bar & Grill under “chicken gizzards.” There was no talking him down. No dissuading him from taking the risk. It was gizzards he wanted. It was gizzards he was most definitely going to get.
“Jerk chicken wings?” I offered.
“Sure,” Gerry said.
“What about the chicken dumplings?” I asked, hoping another appetizer would deter him from the gizzards. “She said they were one of the most popular items on the menu.” The she, being the illustrated woman of a waitress we had—her arms decorated in multi-colored tattoos.
“Sounds good,” Gerry said.
“So we’re set?”
“Mmmhmmm as long as we get the gizzards.”
So the gizzards were ordered…along with chicken dumplings and jerk chicken wings. And while Mike from Yonkers and Gerry sipped 12 year old, Macallan Scotch, certainly a first for our frugal food group, and with soca coming from the sound system and a cricket match on the television, we scoured the menu for our entrees.
We were in the Bronx, under the 6 train tracks in the Castle Hill section of the borough at what was advertised as a Guyanese & West Indian restaurant. Near the bar, I noticed that the Coconut Palm offered “Pepper Pot,” a piquant Guyanese stew of meat parts cooked slowly in a syrup made from cassava called “cassareep.” I’ve had the Grenadian version in Grenada but never had a pepper pot in the Bronx. I was excited by the prospect.
“I’ll have to ask him when he gets back,” the waitress told me when I asked if there really was pepper pot available.
Who she had to ask was the owner of the Coconut Palm and I waited a long time for “him” to come back to learn that, no, there was no pepper pot. But there was “cook up rice,” a mix of rice, beans, chicken pieces; the Guyanese/Caribbean version of fried rice which I promptly ordered.
The gizzards arrived on our table, cooked crispy and coated in the light curry spice known as bunjal. Gerry wasted no time getting to them and Zio, also a renowned gizzard man, wasn’t far behind. The jerk chicken wings were tender and, as I expected, not quite as spicy as the authentic Jamaican jerk found on that island. Rounding out the trio of appetizers, the chicken dumplings were more reminiscent of fried wontons than anything Caribbean and were served with a sweet soy sauce.
Displaying the East Indian influence on Guyanese food, the entrees of salt fish and stewed red snapper, ordered by Gerry and Eugene respectively, came with dhal, a soupy lentil condiment. Zio’s jerk chicken was the extended version of the chicken wings we already experienced, but his came with rice.
“Rice a Roni,” Zio muttered as the bright orange rice with peas was placed in front of him.
Mike from Yonkers was complaining as well. “There are too many bones,” he kept telling us as he gnawed through the “bunjal duck” he ordered, that was prepared in the same lighter version of a curry that the gizzards were.
I had no complaints about my cook up rice; it was what I expected and Mike from Yonkers’ loss was my gain as there were many tiny pieced of duck for me to pick through long after he had given up.
Twelve year old Scotch aside, the Coconut Palm Bar and Grill easily fit into our meager budget and though there were gizzards, orange-colored rice, and numerous tiny duck bones to work around, the food just always seems better when eaten under the elevated subway tracks.
Coconut Palm Bar & Grll
2407 Westchester Ave