September 22, 2014 | BITE: My Journal

Buss Up Shot and Pressure Drop at Miss Lily’s 7A

For me, the best taste of the evening: Toasted coconut-wrapped sweet corn oozing jerk mayo.
For me, the best taste of the evening: Toasted coconut-wrapped sweet corn oozing jerk mayo.

          Miss Lily’s 7A Cafe is, at least last Thursday, missing our town’s late-night chiclettes and the goat stew of its Houston Street mother ship. But it has a vibrant hop, stupefyingly beautiful servers of both genders, and a groovy beach-shack-via-the-thrift-shop look by Serge Becker.

Never mind backless stools, the bar crowd multiplies and heats up as the evening goes on.

          And it’s got its own high proof heat. With no Anna Wintour marshaling neighborhood forces like those that bumped up against the original Miss Lily’s, this Alphabet City cubby has a full bar.  

I love my ginger-infused “Roots and Culture” cocktail with  a ribbon of candied ginger on top.

          I love my gingery $14 Roots & Culture -- tequila with a nice jolt of lime and house-made ginger beer on the rocks, a flap of candied ginger sitting on the edge. Peter can mellow out with a serious vodka. And our Ethno Cultist Rich sips a “Boom Shot” of rum and sorrel, going back for another, and another.

Forget the intense crawl on Avenue A, Miss Lily’s open facade looks like a beach shack in Jamaica.

          Although it replaced 7A, a round-the-clock fixture for decades, Miss Lily’s looks like it’s been there forever. The façade is open to the street as it would be on the beach. Photographs of Jamaican heroes line the beams, with Crayola colors and exaggerated prints dizzying the walls. Once you stop gaping at the gawjus crew, you might even notice the checkerboard floors, and the red-spotted cat prints on the table.   

It wasn’t easy to get this swift-moving server to stop even for a few seconds.

          Curls of plantain crisps stand up in the ackee dip I ordered with the drinks. Ackee will never be a contender with good guacamole, but like gossip -- good or bad -- it carries us along till crispy cod fritters arrive to dunk into a tame curry dipping sauce. Indeed, when the servers are hotter than the scotch bonnet, that is definitely a complaint. So are paper napkins. Not with this food, please.

Crisp little cod fritters, a Miss Lily staple, comes in a red plastic basket to dip in curry sauce.

          I prefer my macaroni crusty on top, but this $6 mac & cheese pie is nicely gooey and big enough for all six of us to have a generous taste. Unknowing, I’d ordered two portions. That seemed to obligate me to eat twice as much as anyone else.  

Do you know what a fool I am for macaroni? Over-excited anticipation led me to blur the photo.

          So I send you here for the party vibe, the diverse hunks at the bar, the clash of dayglo patterns, not for the food, which is mostly just okay. I liked chef Adam Schop’s cooking at Nuela. But tonight the jerk chicken is tame and not very juicy.

I found this evocative sketch on the Miss Lily’s website.

          It makes me mourn the vanished Jamaican Hot Spot in Harlem. It makes me think I need to hit Yvonne’s Jamaican Food Truck at 71st and York on Jerk Chicken Wednesday. This arid white meat even makes me long for me the juicy bird west on Houston in the early days of Miss Lily’s. Not even a splash of Miss Lily’s bottled jerk sauce helps here.

The jerk chicken leg was juicy enough but even white meat eaters might find the breast dry.

          Still, two of tonight’s ethnic adventurers have never tasted seriously great jerk in Harlem or on Queens street corners. They’re ecstatic and wild to come back. They especially love the Buss Up Shot with supposedly grilled shrimp and the very good vegetable curry to scoop up in tatters of island roti with tamarind chutney.

          The waiter is a saint, though he looks like a pirate, a benign Johnny Depp. The busboy has personality to spare. He poses for a photo in his Marvin’s Juice Bar t-shirt. I ask him to get me a dishtowel to spare my blouse from spatter. No problem.

I must confess that the kitchen tripled our order of Pepper Shrimp and charged us for one.

          Miss Lily’s heads-on “Pepper Shrimp” are only a whisk overcooked in a fragrant sludge -- one of the zestier offerings. And at my end of the table, Belle and I are greedily devouring jerk grilled corn oozing coconut and mayo with no regret for destroying carefully drawn lip lines and crimson’d pouts. It comes cut in half on a stick. Wet naps follow.

I’m a fan of oxtails -- but that’s no excuse for the blur of this photo.

          I don’t mind the bones in oxtail stew. That’s what oxtails have the most of, plus a pile of rice and peas alongside. That makes up for the rather grim grilled mackerel rundown (reduced coconut milk) with some charred kale flutters. A side of callaloo proves sweeter than spinach and edible, unlike rubbery kale.

Buss Up Shot refers to the tatters of roti you wrap the shrimp and vegetable curry in.

          We’ve gone from devoted busboy to what look like managers and possibly even owners soliciting our confessions of happiness.They gather unabashed bleats of joy. We love being where the fun is.

More freebies from the house: Coconut angel cake, Mum’s toffee pudding, Miss Lily’s banana pudding.

          The gift of desserts follows. Mum’s very good old-fashioned toffee pudding. Coconut angel food cake (“Favourite Cake of the Day” with a British spelling). And Miss Lily’s banana pudding with vanilla wafers standing up on top. My mom always buried the wafers in the pudding so they’d meld. But Daddy always encouraged an open mind. That’s in my DNA.

I caught this server at the computer behind me, trying to escape the camera.

109 Avenue A on the SW corner of 7th Street. 212 812 1482. Lunch seven days, 11 am till 4 pm. A limited transition menu from 4 to 5 pm. Dinner 5 to 11 pm. Late night till 2 am. 

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