Underbelly: Natural Vibes Jerk Hut
A taste of the island on Culver Road
A plate of steaming oxtail, with a side of gravy-soaked rice and peas and a garden salad
While my wife and I tuck into our lunches of oxtail and jerk chicken at Natural Vibes Jerk Hut, a pair of ambulance workers enter with their especially bewildered-looking friend. “I don’t know,” he says when his friends suggest the oxtail. “It just kind of feels like I’d be eating a bull’s [insert anatomical reference here].”
It was a statement as culinarily befuddled as it was anatomically astray.
Because oxtail, like any number of other, cheaper cuts of meat, is a thing of sublime carnivorous beauty in the hands of an experienced chef. Fatty and shot through with connective tissues, it requires a patient hand. But the reward for that patience is a meal somewhere between the tender bite of a well-cooked pot roast and the hunt-and-peck interactivity of a chicken wing.
Right on the corner of Culver Road and Atlantic Avenue on the city’s northeast side, Natural Vibes Jerk Hut is building its reputation for such delicacies. On the adjacent corner from Sticky Lips Pit BBQ, the Hut is a hard place to miss, and a harder place to find parking.The building looks like a retrofitted urban residence, so lack of space isn’t surprising.
But you don’t come for the parking— you come for the taste. And while I cannot be considered an authority, what I tasted at Natural Vibes was exactly my memory of my one trip to Jamaica. Sweetly spicy, peppery, and savory. A feast for the eyes, the mouth, nose, and fingers. Wherever you’re from and wherever your soul resides, soul food is soul food and tastes something like this.
The jerk chicken typifies what most non-Jamaicans think of Jamaican food. And as representatives of a culture go, it’s not a bad one. At the Hut, jerk is served on a half chicken, grilled to steamy, juicy perfection and chopped for convenience. (Note to the uninitiated: this type of preparation requires careful eating, lest you ingest an ill-fated bone fragment.)
The oxtail was, as I mentioned, sublime. Here, the spice was less pronounced in favor of a more savory, earthy experience. The tail is chopped in much the same way as the chicken, but, being a much larger- boned animal, the ox presents less danger of choking. Both my wife and I selected the peas and rice as a side along with a salad that comes with every plate. I’m not a salad guy, so I skipped that part, but the peas and rice were peppery and smothered in gravy.
One of the best and least expected treats of our meal was the freshly made juices and ginger beers you can get with your lunch. These not-to-be-missed refresh- ments included a spicy ginger beer that would get me back to the Hut all by itself.
With fresh juice and an entree, the bill totaled $12-15, which is pricier than a lot of Underbelly selections. But for authenticity and quick eats, Natural Vibes Jerk Hut can hardly be beat.
Tom Belknap is a writer, musician, and developer who lives and works in the Rochester area. His blog, DragonFlyEye.net, explores science and technology news in Upstate New York.