'You found any 'proper' restaurants?' a fellow food judge asked me once Thursday Life's All You Need is a Nanny -- Part 1 came out on September 26th this year. This was in reference to eating out for $500 or less (including GCT). The man in question knows his eateries, whether it be a cook shop in the deepest corner of downtown Kingston, a roadside stop in the likes of Runaway Bay, or a posh place with white table linen and a wonderful wine list.
This powerful question played in my mind for several days. Sure, one can eat out for $500 or less. However, what if you would like to experience somewhere with a little bit of the creature comforts, but simply cannot afford a $500-$2000 (let alone more) bill, not even once? All five of the Cannonball Café locations offer a solution. For $390 you can get the Breakfast Special: Egg & Bacon Bagel with French Press Blue Mountain Coffee; and for $500, the Lunch Special: Sub Sandwich (Chicken Salad, Tuna Salad or Egg Salad) with an Iced Tea. Both specials are available Mondays through Fridays only.
Co-owners Tara Abrahams-Clivio and Wendy Facey have grown the cutesy café into quite a bustling business, offering a real first-world café experience to corporate Kingston and prime residential areas, without leaving out those who cannot be paying crazy cash. "With the breakfast special, everything is local except the bagel," Abrahams-Clivio revealed. "It is a form of marketing, giving an entry point for customers," she admitted. "However, we don't want to make people feel left out if they can't afford Cannonball, normally, and we do hope it will make them come back."
It is difficult for these proud partners to lower the cost of the rest of their menu, though. "One of the huge things affecting that is the US dollar," Abrahams-Clivio stated, "as our rent is in US currency. But we also want nice locations. On top of that, our suppliers are fixing their food prices to the US dollar on a daily basis. But, of course, when the dollar increases, our customers won't tolerate the fluctuation." She went on to say that, as is the case with most restaurants, "JPS is our biggest spend. We try to keep costs very tight, but we also want nice locations."
Jahva Café in Marketplace is another quite lovely venue that prepares a few palatable paninis for modest prices. The Ham & Cheese Panini is $300, as is the Jerk Chicken version, and the Smoked Marlin with Cream Cheese is $450. While not massive portions, those opting for a toasted sandwich are not necessarily looking for a hot and heavy platter.
Another nice nook is Café Fusion on Ruthven Road. Opened in December last year, by Cameca Samuels and Leisha Patrick, this café offers interesting sandwiches and salads, a handful of pastas and hot meals, and several all-day breakfast items. While well over half the menu ranges between $550 and $1200, for the most part breakfast is under $500, the Chicken Tender and Tuna Melt Sandwiches cost a neat nanny each, and the two hot lunch specials, $450-$500. The latter "depends on the cut of meat", Patrick said of her specials, which always come with a varied selection of vegetables and starches. "But the chicken is always $450, and only if we use something like pork do we charge $500."
She insists that in order to cut costs one must place one's priorities in good order. "You can't spend as you see money," she advised. "You need to map it out, starting off small," she demonstrated by pointing out the display fridge she'd recently repaired, but had not yet been plugged in. Waiting until she has a cash cushion, the fridge will eventually contain pastries. This industrious foodie sees the future of Fusion as fabulous, and though she is no fool to the financial fuss, Patrick is one frugal lady. "I am hands-on with what I buy and how I run the café. For example, I minimise how often I go into the fridge by setting up a cool box with fresh food I will be using that day," she related. "And if my bills increase, I scrutinise and ask myself why this has happened and how I can decrease it next month. The same goes if a customer leaves food on the plate. Was it too much? Was it not to their taste?"
A key aspect to cutting costs also comes from the number of staff she and her business partner, who does the promotion of the place, employ. "We have a part-time chef and a full-time cashier (who clearly helps out in all areas)," Patrick, who is there all the time, stated as she rose from the table to get back to work.
Pita Grill, in the very pleasant Orchid Plaza, has cool outdoor dining that caters 24/7 to all kinds of pockets! The bigger your hunger, the more fare you buy, of course, but here you can choose from a wide selection of offers. Two Honey Butter Chicken Sliders cost $450 (as do all the chicken sliders), three Beef Sliders fill you up for $395, two cost $265, and one only $135, while two Beef Sliders with Fries and a drink cost $475, and one of those with fries and drink is $355. You can also buy two Ham & Cheese Sliders for $495, two Fish sliders for $495, and two Hot Dog Jerk/Chorizo sliders for $495.
Then there's the pure simplicity of Toss & Roll Salad Bar on the corner of Lady Musgrave Road and Trafalgar Road. Sharing an address with the statue of a national hero -- Marcus Garvey -- must surely give it an element of properness. The majority of their meals easily go over $500, but both the small wrap and small Salad (with any choice of protein and vegetables) are $500 each. "In these challenging economic times we try to keep our operating costs low by sourcing produce directly from our local farmers, and we work out agreements with them to guarantee a set price for a particular period of time," co-owner Keisha Bailey told Thursday Life. "Environment will affect the price of produce, and we don't want to pass on a fluctuation to our customers.
"Even something like the wind can affect the price of the shrimps that we buy directly from the fishermen, as wind means a small catch." In addition, Bailey and her husband Jermaine "have implemented a few energy-saving measures to keep our electricity costs low, using energy-saving bulbs and an inverter air-conditioning unit, which we only turn on during peak serving times".
The Chinese take-away Sizzling Wok is located next to Sugar & Spice in Upper Manor Park Plaza. Oliver Chang, owner of both joints, wishes "I could go lower in my prices, but rent is so expensive", he told us. Even though most of the menu tops $1,000, his lunch specials include $400 for stir-fried vegetables with rice, and $500 for one main meat choice, stir-fried vegetables and rice. "I buy in bulk in order to keep prices as low as possible, but I won't do that with rice," he related. "I have to use a better quality rice, so that in turn I do get more customers," Chang admitted.
Of course a short walk away in Manor Park Plaza there is the old-faithful Burger King (found at numerous other locations), probably the most popular burger bet in Jamaica. The breakfasts that they are serving are ridiculously reasonable: $200 for an English muffin with bacon and cheese/ham and cheese/egg and cheese, with orange juice or hot beverage; $250 for French toast with orange juice or hot beverage; and $280 for a Croissant filled with ham and cheese/bacon and cheese/egg and cheese, with orange juice or hot beverage. Also, the King Deals, which feed two people for $650 are crazy: Double Whopper Junior with cheese (comes with 2 small fries and two small sodas); and Double Chicken Junior Sandwich Combo (comes with two small fries and two small sodas).
Thursday Life also checked out Sovereign Food Court, where Jamaica Juice sets out a stable vegetarian menu of main meals for $350, all of which come with brown rice: curry chickpeas with potatoes, Frijoles Negros (Latin black beans in sofrito sauce), vegetable rundown, three bean stew, and chilli vegetal (red peas and soy mince in spicy tomato sauce).
Then there's Bikkles, which dishes up big box lunches luje okra and salt fish (with food) for $380, and curry chicken with white rice for $420.
Additionally, Island Grill, which has lots of locations islandwide, is among the casual restaurants in there. Fish meals range from $45 to $495; sandwiches run at a cool $370 ($445 with fries); cooked meals -- curry chicken, fricassee chicken and veggie stew peas, are $290 for a regular, $410 for large (add another $75 to include a regular soda); and the chicken meals are $405 and $460, depending on what you want.
NEXT WEEK: Thursday Life continues its recommendations of places to eat for $500 or less.