#GOODEATS: MISS LILY’S SOHO NYC
A visit to the much talked about Jamaican restaurant leading in West Indian flavors and a lesson in the sustainability of brands like Lily’s.
I made the declaration live on the blog last week and already I’m brought to explore the integrity of this my new way of life. I’m no longer interested in making my already awkward self further uncomfortable trying incessantly to obey pointless social norms of being cool. I’d much rather reduce my anxiety and enjoy the ride. So the story starts like this; I met up in Time Square with my friend and film student Ty Fong for some table talk and ended up in Soho under the yellow awnings of Miss Lily’s at 132 West and Houston Street. The story of awkwardness, comfortability and integrity begins with the Host and the clandestine entrance for which he holds command, who after long observing two obviously eager foodies hustling toward the restaurant found it fitting to -with a dose of attitude- inform us that the wide-open and inviting hole in the wall was not, in fact, a place of entry (per say). Instead, he slavishly guided us through the small, secretive and undesigned “main entrance” into a vibrant dining room nonetheless.
This did not make up for the sour taste in my mouth, that lingered for long over 10 minutes. I was disappointed, to say the least, to have been “greeted” like that only for it to be followed up by a slew of perfectly polite wait staff lacking a lick of local culture or vibe. V uninspiring. After browsing through the cocktail menu and for once not be asked for my ID, the Lily Punch, however doubtfully became my choice afternoon delight. Ty and I did get lost in the eclectic decor and our conversation as we deliberated on switching closer to the power outlet as this is New York City and we are budding subway savants who know better. With my spirit cleansed and lubricated and my eyes now refocused from the dazzling decor, the kid was hungry. But you know what, I realize that I’m so much more practical in how I eat out than I was two years ago. Today I order based solely on what my soul most desires from the menu, regardless of the course or price. I opted for the warm and fuzzy oxtail with rice and peas and of course, a side of fried ripe plantains and another round of the Lily Punch, hold the ice. The taste was not at least the brown-stew beefy taste I’ve grown accustomed to with sub-Jamaican epicurean gastronomy. But, it still wasn’t the Sunday-stew-tail-of-oxen taste those who’ve been fortunate enough to have had the real thing would expect. I’m on the tail like religion because rightfully so it’s sacrilegious to fuck it up. Anyway, in all technicalities they didn’t and I’m glad. The plantains did nuff, so much that I left about 3 behind… and I as I mention religion - forgive me food god for I have sinned.
Most Jamaican centric international restaurants often lose its roots on the pursuit of seducing a global audience. They trample on tradition when they feel like it, like afro-centric millennials that are .3% Jamaican but swears to be a YAADIE… until tax season. Miss Lily’s does a good job at honoring tradition by creating an afternoon in Kingston 2 vibe during the lunchtime I visited. What sounded like local radio and the casual street corner reality surprised me with a dose of nostalgia that I was grateful for. I don’t have many triggers for the memories from my childhood in Rollington and Vineyard Town. And those are my favorite, so for Miss Lily’s to inspire that - I must consider a 5-star rating on ambiance. It's almost good enough to overshadow the hurried and robotic table service that sounds ideal but delivers in the worst way conceivable. Having to rob the table next to me of its side plates to properly mash up my oxtail (with my knife and fork no less) because the table guy decided for us that we didn’t need ours, is just one of those things that ruffles the feathers of a mechanical eater like me.
As you can guess by now, I am going to let the host roast slide, partly because in actuality the service wasn’t bad. They may not be driving it home to the full index of the Jamaican gastronomic dogma. But precisely where they (for me) lack in a full homegrown experience they make up for in the same breath in diversity. Honoring a place through human resources and in essence sort of furtherance of the Jamaican multinational peppered culture, if you may. So despite the idiosyncrasies of this place and its growing pains, it has personality and a warm, beating heart. It demands to be liked. Relatable.
132 W Houston St
New York, NY 10012