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Dining Out: Great Jamaica island cooking in Queens

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STUFFERS' CRABHOUSE

134-22 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.

Jamaica

723-1600

The sign posted by the narrow dining counter that runs along the front window says it all:

"To our customers: Contrary to appearances, Stuffers' Crabhouse is not a fast food restaurant. All of our menu items are prepared to order and seasoned to your individual taste. This sometimes takes longer but tastes better."

Stuffers,' with Tom Dixon as manager and associate Sherman George of Caribbean descent, features crabs prepared in the Maryland style. And Maryland style means spicy. Here shrimp are served with the shells on. Crab cakes are light with a little breading, lots of crab meat and a seasoning which they developed. That's Maryland style, too.

The fish fry is Louisiana style , with whiting with a crispy coating. Specialties of the house include: Fish knuckles - bite size chunks of cod dipped in a light batter, fried in soy bean oil and served with a spicy cocktail sauce; fried shrimp double-dipped, also shrimp fried in soy bean oil.

On Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, lobsters, three for $25, are a draw. They are steamed, then cracked (how civilized!) and coated with a mild, medium or hot seasoning. And the stuffed red snapper is filled with crab meat and garnished with fried sweet onions.

The small shop has a rubber plant by the door and philodendrons hanging in the windows. Green trays are used for those who eat in, on one of the dozen stools along the counter. (Not ultra comfortable.) We started with a can of root beer and hush puppies slightly sweet, crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside, with cocktail sauce for dipping, as we waited for the seafood to be prepared. My companion's combo was a lobster tail, crab cake and melted butter with cole slaw (chopped fine and very good).

Combos are "the thing" at Stuffers'. My combo was crab claws (There are king crab clusters, snow crabs as well as stuffed crabs) and spicy boiled shrimp in shell with melted butter and cocktail sauce. The claws in my dish were six inches long attached to the body which was halved for easy eating. By breaking the claws in half you're able to extract the succulent meat.

I've never had fish knuckles, so they were a must. And so sensational! I'm planning a cocktail party - make that beer bash - featuring fish knuckles and hush puppies. Want to come?

Add to that garlic crabs, steamed or fried that intrigued me at Stuffers' a year ago. Oh that garlic flavor! I'd like to try Cajun fries and sweet potato fries and the crab soup someday.

Homemade cheese cake is the dessert par excellence and it comes in a rainbow of flavors: coconut, sweet potato, swirl, pineapple, chocolate, orange and more.

Stuffers' must be doing something right. the restaurant on Guy R. Brewer Avenue has been open for five years. Now they're looking into licensing and franchising,

FLAVORS CARIBBEAN BAKERY

188-26 Linden Blvd.

St. Albans

528-0790

There's a bit of Jamaica - the island - in St. Albans.

On Linden Boulevard, Flavors, a Caribbean bakery and takeout shop (with four stools for eat-in) has been turning out great Jamaican foods and baked goods. Not only that, the folks behind the counter and the atmosphere are delightful.

It's a tiny place, but there's such an up-beat air about it. Cheery blue and white tiles are on the wall. A few Gospel sayings, such as "God is love," are tacked up.

A glass cabinet holds tempting baked goods that anyone who hails from or has visited Kingston or Orche Rios will recall. The famed black cake with the white frosting (ultra black from the burnt sugar) is the best I've tasted either here or there. And, of course, there's hard dough white bread which I must confess has never thrilled my taste buds but no Jamaican bakery could exist without it.

The Jamaican spice loaf is there, sliced thickly with two slices put together with a thick slice of imported Jamaican cheese between. And you can also buy the cheese by itself.

The bakery and kitchen, manned by Norman and Dwight and managed by Gary, is open six days a week (closed on Sunday) from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The special on the day I stopped by was curried shrimp with a rice, green cabbage and slices of fried plantain. There was a multitude of shrimp in a fine curry sauce plus cubed potato which was a definite plus.

I chose rice and beans and was impressed with the way the plantains tasted. I don't want to bore you by repeating "the best I ever tasted," but they were!

Curried shrimp is the most expensive entree ($7.50; $8.50 for an even larger serving). The $5 and $6 choices with the same accompaniments were: curried goat, roast fish and jerky chicken.

There are David and Goliath sodas (orange, pineapple and grape) and cream soda, ginger beer and cola champagne to guzzle. Don't forget the tropical ice cream - grapefruit, strawberry, coffee and rum raisin.

The traditional patties, chicken (curried and jerk) with saffron crust and beef and vegetarian, too, are offered, as is a new -to-me item, fish in crust - rolled dough spread with a fish mixture. Fine fare for breakfast or lunch or a light supper.

At Flavors, the escabeched fish - whole ones with sliced onions and carrots - are mildly vinegary, and served warm. They're absolutely delicious.

The food at Flavors, out of St. Ann's in the West Indies, awaits you. And it's a real treat!

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