It’s not expected for a restaurant on the thoroughfare of West Houston, dividing trendy-yet-touristy SoHo from NYU-dominated Greenwich Village, to be so popular and unique. It also isn’t expected for such a venue to takeover practically the whole block, with the two-roomed restaurant, adjacent record store, and adjoining juice box and bake shop.
Walking into Miss Lily’s requires some crowd weaving and a bit of realizing that your hearing will suffer a little that night. This is no reason to be discouraged, as the atmosphere and food is worth it. Miss Lily’s is like nowhere else I’ve been to in New York. It’s almost like traveling to another country, which is probably what the folks behind this Jamaican bar and restaurant, who include Serge Becker, had in mind. The space is reminiscent of both a diner and a club. It’s cozy, colorful, and packed with music paraphernalia: tables painted with records, record sconces, walls painted like speakers, and speakers covered with the Jamaican flag. There are even drinks named after songs.
This restaurant is pretty new, and I’ve read good things about it, two important criteria for choosing a dinner spot, but I also went for the jerk dishes. As a kid I shied away from eating jerk anything because I though it would make you a jerk, but I’m no longer afraid. I was eager to try something with the famed seasoning.
I ordered the green salad to start , and tried some of the jerk grilled corn. My first bite was from the corn, and it was amazing, better than I could have ever imagined. The not overcooked kernels were rolled in a little butter and jerk seasoning, and then in toasted coconut shavings. It was sweet and spicy, with a little bit of nuttiness from the coconut, which I know is not a nut, but does have a similar flavor, especially when toasted. This side dish is a must for anyone who thought butter and salt was enough.
Then I got started on my green salad, a generous, large plates-worth of greens topped simply with some halved cherry tomatos, and what looked like shavings of carrot and jicama, and dressed with a simple vinaigrette, but a little overdressed. The starters came out incredibly quick, in what seemed like only a few minutes after ordering, and the main courses were out before I was even done with my salad. The large portion of jerk chicken, a deal at $19, came with some fresh cucumber slices, a refreshing break when the chicken got a little spicy for me. There was also a delicous fruity and gingerery chutney-like sauce that tasted great with the chicken, and even on it’s own. The chicken was slow cooked and grilled with a jerk sauce glaze; it was cooked perfectly, not dry at all, and there was just enough seasoning to not be overly spicy. If you’re into spicy, though, there’s an extra spicy sauce brought in a bottle along the dish. The chicken also came with a side of rice with a a few beans in it, which I didn’t even know was part of the dish, but ate anyways, making for a very complete and tasty meal.
P.S. Try to get a seat in the back room, as the front one gets flooded with people, especially on a Friday night, but likely on most nights. Or hop over to their bake shop and juice box where items similar to those at the restaurant are served, as well as inventive fresh juices and shakes concoted by Melvin Major Jr., a juice veteran who previously worked at LifeThyme, and who the New York Times said “may be New York’s first celebrity juicer.”
P.P.S. Listen to Radio Lily on their website to get a taste of their tunes!