Words by Debra Edwards—
Since moving to New York over a year ago, my search for affordable, authentic and exceptional Jamaican cuisine has been endless. Not every establishment can get it just right; but with a recent trip to Fisherman’s Dawta in Brooklyn, I think it is now safe to say that my hunt is over.
Adding character to an otherwise monotone block on Atlantic Ave., one can’t miss the simple-yet-crafty hanging Fisherman’s Dawta sign. Once inside I am greeted by an uber cute and clean environment filled with lively décor, bright blue walls reminiscent of the Caribbean Sea, and the smiles of mother/ daughter proprietor team Jennefier Ewers and Kamilah Gianni. Ms. Ewers has been in the restaurant and catering business for over 30 years. Known to many as the woman behind the once popular Brawta restaurant, which she ran for 18 years and closed in an attempt to retire and return to Jamaica, she is now back in full culinary force. With the help of her daughter Kamilah, Fisherman’s Dawta opened in June 2011.
Conversations about where to find good Jamaican food in New York more often than not led to Brawta, only to be concluded by, “but it’s now closed.” So the foodie in me knew I had to make the trip to Fisherman’s Dawta after hearing that the much discussed grub had returned, only a mere block away from where Brawta was. “Everywhere we would go people would say, ‘what happened to Brawta?,’” Ms. Ewers says, explaining the simple rationale behind cutting her retirement short. “I love what I do,” she says. “So after careful thought Kamilah and I got together and started this venture.”
The name is an homage to her 98-year old father, a fisherman and boat builder. “Being back home in Jamaica for those two years and being around my dad and the other fishermen inspired [it],” explains Ms. Ewers, as a customer walks in. Seeing Ewers, that same customer makes the connection with Brawta, exclaiming “I am so happy I found you!”
Sentiments like this are what have enabled Ewers to switch gears from a staffed restaurant to a semi-take out with success. “Many of our old customers are back with us and we have made a lot of new ones,” she says. The Fisherman’s Dawta differs from Brawta in that there is no waitstaff or set menu, but rather a chalk board on the wall, with offerings changing from day to day. “We do what the customers like and what is comfortable for us to do. We try to do on average five different dishes per day and try to ensure at least one vegetarian option,” explains Kamilah. On any given day expect delectable Jamaican staples such as Jerk Chicken (a must have), Stew Peas, Curried Chicken and Oxtail, but it’s safe to say you are in for a tasty Jamaican infused surprise on each trip there.
Ms. Ewers says she learned to cook from her mother and other women in her village. “Grown women were my friends and any woman that could cook I kind of gravitated towards them and picked up their recipes and how they did things in the kitchen,” she says. Did she pass the cooking gene unto her daughter? With a smile Kamilah chimes in, “Well I think she did, I am responsible for all the baked goods here.” (Sweet Tooth Tip: Try the banana bread!)
As I tuck into a much needed fix of palette pleasing Ackee and Saltfish, I’m told that R&B superstar Usher has frequented the location, and that Common has declared the joint his favorite Caribbean restaurant on his website. On a mission to provide fresh, healthy and tasty food, Ewers ensures that fresh and homemade juices such as mango and sorrel are always on the menu (Along with that other staple Jamaican thirst quencher, ginger beer). Also she limits the butter and oil content and only uses coconut milk in her recipes.
Fisherman’s Dawta is ideal for those who crave a casual vibe with friends and family, or those who wish to come by on their lonesome and read a book, or have a great conversation with Kamilah or Ms. Jenny, while experiencing some great fare and listening to reggae music. With a shaded outdoor area perfect for the summertime (or, for now, imagining it), it’s BYOB and the food here, you can tell, is always made with love.
Fisherman’s Dawta is located at 407 Atlantic Ave (Between Bond & Nevins), Brooklyn, NY 11217. Tel (718) 855-7555