Calypso Cafe: A Tragic Love Story

Hey there, it’s John again. I do promise that Lisa will start posting things eventually. (Guys, be eternally grateful that we don’t have the male equivalent of morning sickness.)

I received a bit of sad news this past Friday night when I drove up Route 33 East to the strip mall in Neptune where Calypso Cafe was located. I had been seeing the CLOSED sign for a few weeks, and I was hoping and praying that it was just simply an extended vacation.

Sadly, no. Another sign had appeared in the window: FOR SALE.

Some friends and I had stumbled upon Calypso Cafe more than a year ago. It was a brand new place, one that focused on Jamaican cuisine. My experience with Jamaican food was, to be honest, pretty limited, but I was very intrigued to give the place a try.

Located in a somewhat rundown strip mall across from Jersey Shore Medical Center, Calypso Cafe’s surroundings didn’t exactly scream “YUMMY FOOD BEING SERVED HERE”. Once you went inside the restaurant, however, there was a sense of brightness about the place. Small, but bright. The combination of elements that you’d expect to find in a Jamaican restaurant (Jamaican flags, palm trees, reggae music) with small touches of trashy chic (small funky lighting hung from an artistically shaped piece of metal) seemed to work just fine together.

The first night we went, I decided to keep it simple and order a plate of jerk pork with rice and beans and a side of collard greens. What came back from the kitchen was a big plate of love. The cubes of pork melted in my mouth with spicy and flavorful goodness. The collards were the best I had tasted anywhere above the Mason-Dixon Line. And the fried plantains….yum…fried plantains. I had been swept off my food-loving feet.

So the Calypso became the regular Friday night thing for my friends and I. Over time I tried more of the menu…spicy beef patties, jerk chicken, oxtail stew, curried shrimp…very simple peasant food prepared well. And you never left the place hungry. Never.

We also got to know Harold, the owner. Two things about Harold: he always had a smile on his face, and he always made sure to take care of your needs. Although he had a full-time job, you could tell that this was his passion.

“So what happened?”, you might ask. (Yes, I saw you back there asking. Don’t try to duck under your desk or look away innocently.)

Well, the answer is very simple: not enough customers. The sad fact was that every Friday when we went, the place was never crowded. The Calypso only had maybe eight small tables. If you had 15 people eating at one time, it would have seemed full. We never had to wait for a table. Ever.

Was it a lack of advertising? Bad location? Not enough interest in Jamaican food? I just don’t know. But I do know this: I want to do everything I can to help promote local places that are doing wonderful things in their kitchens. Good food is an expression of love, and we need all the love we can get.

A friend of mine saw Harold last week working in a Wegman’s. Harold had taken a second job at Wegman’s to help support the restaurant. My friend reported that he didn’t see the smile on Harold’s face. Hopefully, it will return someday.

UPDATE (March 2015): Well, as with many restaurant locations in strip malls, this space has seen some changes. For a period of time, it was another Caribbean restaurant. Now it is a Filipino restaurant.

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