3104 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14214
A short but sweet menu offering Caribbean appetizers, entrees, and drinks, with the former and latter standing out as highlights. Reasonable prices.
Several items were disappointingly shallow in flavor and/or dried out. Take-out focused venue is in serious need of a good cleaning.
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"We went through one of the spicy beef patties in no time flat, loving the moist, strongly spiced meat and nice pastry shell; they're most certainly from a box, but we'd order again."
To date, only two restaurants have turned one of us off so much that we haven't been able to offer dual opinions on the food. El Palenque was first, an injury caused by its deteriorating Mexican dining room leading us to walk out without eating. Doctor Bird's Caribbean Rasta-Rant was the second; after we spotted a roach - no, not one of those - wandering around, only one of us was still willing to brave the meal, and then only as take-out. We've decided to hold off for now on a rating, but wanted to share impressions nonetheless.
It's obvious from minute one that Doctor Bird's isn't trying to be a fancy place: there are only a few tables set up, two of them with bolted down seats on only one side - a sign that they're there more for waiting on take-out than for dining in. A brief but almost complete menu is posted high on the wall near the rear kitchen, with a single, slightly longer one available to inspect by hand at the counter. Many of the options are variants on each other, with jerk chicken - a Caribbean favorite - appearing in breast entree form and as wings, while other items such as curried goat, chicken, or beef differ more in meat than in sauce and other ingredients.
While standing at the counter looking over the menu, we noticed that Doctor Bird's is also selling reggae CDs, incense, and bottles of Caribbean spices, and has a freezer with pre-packaged foods from other companies sitting nearby. Next to that, there's a refrigerator stocked with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar sodas - Grapefruit, Pineapple, Ginger Beer and "Kola Champagne" among them ($2.50 each), the latter three D&G Genuine-branded. We pulled three bottles from the fridge and wound up liking all of them: the Ginger Beer was milder than many we've tried, but still unmistakably ginger-flavored and sweetened here with cane sugar, while the Pineapple was appropriately tangy and quite like the rare Crush flavor, and Kola Champagne tasted not so much like cola, but rather like a spicy cream soda - very unique.
The first of the food items we tried was also very good: Doctor Bird's keeps a collection of "Patties" - essentially Hot Pockets, or pastry shells with spiced ground meat inside - under heating lamps at all times, offering patrons a choice of spicy or mild beef, chicken, vegetable or soy innards for $2 each. As Jamaica's domestic alternative of sorts to the hamburger, they can be eaten alone or with Coco Bread ($1), a super-soft and slightly sweet mini loaf that's very similar to Hawaiian and Portuguese sweet breads, though not quite so exciting on its own.
We went through one of the spicy beef patties in no time flat, loving the moist, strongly spiced meat and nice pastry shell; though they're most certainly prepackaged, we'd order one of these again any day. By contrast, the Coco Bread was large and fine, but unnecessary as an addition to the patties, and not worth finishing. A third appetizer, a $2 order of Plantains, arrived conceptually just as we normally love them - ripe and fried to a golden brown - and fair enough in quantity (four slices) for the price, but the actual pieces weren't quite moist enough inside or out for our liking. Under the best circumstances, these banana-family fruits have a certain soft, honey-like interior and crispy exterior that come together with a texture and subtlety missing from traditional fried bananas; here, they were just plain.
So were the entrees. We were most excited to try the Jerk Chicken ($8.50), commonly a spicy, intensely flavored breast of chicken, but here a somewhat more plain offering with the requisite dry rub coating but little strength or penetration of flavor through the meat. On the fine edge of too dry inside, the chicken was surprisingly overshadowed by its surrounding bed of warm, moist, and delicious marinated rice, which had a couple of drops of jerk sauce and a few beans inside to add flavor, while an included salad and scoop of warm potato salad were both fine. We'd probably pass on the whole plate save the rice if given the opportunity to do it again, but it wasn't bad.
That word would be closer to accurate for the Curry Chicken Roti ($7.49), one of a number of different stuffing options for the Jamaican version of Indian flatbread, here used as a wrap for chunks of meat and potatoes. One positive about the roti: it was huge by wrap standards, bigger than the typical burrito and filled to sagging capacity with curried meat and potatoes. Picked up with both hands, it split in half, and we tried to eat it with fingers, then with forks. The bread was almost flavorless, while the meat varied from moist and tasty to dry and stringy depending on where the pieces were in the wrap. An included cup of curry sauce didn't help matters much, either.
So score one for the drinks, another for the patties, and a half point for the plantains and rice put together - all in all, not a lot to get excited about. Then factor in the roach issue in the dining area, which unpleasantly turned what was supposed to be a two-person meal into a solo affair, and you'll understand why even these fans of Jamaican cuisine aren't bubbling over with enthusiasm about Doctor Bird's. We won't be rushing back, but the food here's not bad or unreasonably priced; it's just underwhelming, and served in a place that could benefit from a good scrubbing.