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New Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant brings island cuisine to Fort Lauderdale neighborhood

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 6/28/2022 Rod Stafford Hagwood, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Plantation residents and restaurant co-owners Alexis Brown and Monique Clarke Brown want to share their love for Jamaica. © Carline Jean / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS Plantation residents and restaurant co-owners Alexis Brown and Monique Clarke Brown want to share their love for Jamaica.

Dining at the new Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant is a fully immersive experience.

“I’m very big on environment,” says Monique Clarke Brown, who co-owns the fast-casual Fort Lauderdale eatery with her husband, Alexis Brown. “Dining is an experience. It’s not just a food being served in a room that’s a box. What am I hearing? What am I seeing? What am I smelling?

“So for me, I was like, all right, I have a space to work with. I have to make it comfortable so that you want to sit in there and eat.”

The couple filled the walls with the work of two Jamaican artists, photographer Bradley Graham and painter Nicole Milwood. The music and even the flora reflect the Caribbean nation.

Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale is on Federal Highway, just a few blocks south of Commercial Boulevard. © Carline Jean / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale is on Federal Highway, just a few blocks south of Commercial Boulevard.

“Jamaica is even on the television screens,” she adds. “I put up scenes of drone shots on Jamaica.”

Both Plantation residents are multi-hyphenates. She pulls double-duty overseeing both the eatery and her own attorney firm, The Clarke Law, in the United States and in Jamaica. He helms the kitchen full time and is also a pastor at Ariel Family Church of Love in Jamaica in Spanish Town, often conducting services virtually. He was also a math teacher in Jamaica.

“I’ve been a cook mostly ... in family gatherings, like Christmas dinner, her mom’s birthday,” recalls Alexis Brown. “Back when we were [dating], I said, ‘I am going to come and cook for you one day.’ I remember I made stew pork for her. She loved it. I would cook for her and she would give me very good reviews. For me, it was a leap, you know ... cooking for her is one thing, but cooking for a lot of other [people] is a different thing. But I’ve always been 100% behind the vision.”

Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale serves up curry chicken with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, carrots and fried plantains. © Carline Jean / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale serves up curry chicken with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, carrots and fried plantains.

Reggae Roots is on Federal Highway, just a few blocks south of Commercial Boulevard. Since opening in May, that location has been a boon for the restaurant, bringing Caribbean cuisine to the nearby Knoll Ridge, Coral Ridge, The Landings and Coral Shores neighborhoods.

“We have been so warmly received,” she says. “We wanted to give a new way of looking at Jamaican food. To start, a new geographical location in South Florida. Our customers have been so elated and warmly welcomed us as they have been longing for our cuisine without the long drive.”

The interior seats 10 people and the outside lounge seats an additional eight. Prices range from $3 to $28.

Below, find more about the restaurant and its owners.

Developing the menu

Alexis Brown: “My sister, Georgia, she’s a professional chef. So, one of the things that passed on to us is her pineapple barbecue chicken. It just shows you the dynamic of families on both sides.”

Monique Clarke Brown: “I mean, it was easy to curate [the menu] because we know the signature things that you expect to have ... definitely jerk chicken had to go on it. We’ve added a twist in that we have a mango jerk sauce and a pineapple jerk sauce on the side, so we wanted to at least, you know, give them some vibrancy, something a little different. Signature dishes — and frequently requested so far — have been oxtail, curried goat, jerk chicken and pineapple barbecue chicken. I must tell you, people have been asking for stewed peas and cow foot and we’re just like, I don’t know about those two.”

The Reggae Roots menu also includes oxtail served with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, carrots and fried plantains. © Carline Jean / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS The Reggae Roots menu also includes oxtail served with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, carrots and fried plantains.

Reactions from surrounding neighborhoods

Monique Clarke Brown: “Many, many people who live over here behind us and all across U.S. 1, they are coming here and they know Jamaican food. They’ve been to Jamaica. But one of the things about Jamaican food is that even if you’ve never been there, our culture is just so dominant. You know, we’re not just known because of our music or athletics, but Jamaican cuisine is very dominant. So even if you’ve never been to Jamaica, you know the food ...

“The closest [restaurant] that is even remotely into Caribbean [food] is Bahama Breeze. And that’s not really Caribbean food. It’s more American food and they’ve just sort of tweaked the name. It’s not authentic Caribbean or Jamaican food. So really and truly I was like, OK, well, we can dominate right here.”

Running a restaurant

Monique Clarke Brown: “I love food. I looooove food. I mean, I’m a dedicated foodie. I love to try different types of foods, even my own Jamaican food. I want to try everything. You know, if it’s enjoyable, it’s not work ... I love talking to the customers ... I love hearing them saying how the food is so good. And talking about my country. I’m talking about Jamaica all the time.”

Alexis Brown: “We’re building a team. We’re building a strong team. Our prep cook, Dania [Allen] ... is very hard-working, very zealous, and [there’s] the young lady who is at the front, Roxanne [Powell], both have been working very hard. And my wife, of course. She has so many hats. For us, it’s about consistency.”

How travel gave her global flavor

Monique Clarke Brown: “I just love to travel. My friends call me Dora The Explorer because I love to explore this world that we are in and just see it and enjoy it and just give thanks for it. I have traveled the world extensively. I’ve enjoyed everything from Koshary in Egypt to Baklava and Turkish Delight in Istanbul. But not just, you know, [eating] at a restaurant but the local food or whatever they’re selling like on the streets. That’s where the authentic food is. And even in Jamaica, if you want to get like a real jerk chicken, it’s a chicken man ... by some roadside.”

How he thinks of them as ambassadors

Alexis Brown: “Jamaica is a very special country. And you know ... recently the U.S. issued a travel warning, telling people not to go to Jamaica because of the rise of violence. But the truth is, outside of the negative, there are some beautiful and gifted people from Jamaica. I want people to know that we have a national pledge that we say in our country and our pledge says, ‘So that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.’ So our very pledge is a pledge to enhance humanity ... Jamaica will be a country that will really help to make the world a better place. We are ambassadors for our country.”

The inspiration

Alexis Brown: “Initially, I wondered how that would fit in with everything I do, but then I realized a pastor tells everyone about Jesus and Jesus fed the multitudes with fishes and bread. What I take from it ... is just a love of people, and really having what I call a shepherd’s heart. I realized the food industry is ... very challenging. But it’s also just allowing people to feel comfortable, feel loved, feel embraced and so on. You know, we’re told that if a man doesn’t know how to take care of his family, is that man fit to run our church? So, for me, in so many ways, this is just being a husband. And to make sure my wife ... is seeing her dream [happen], because she’s always dreamed and envisioned this.”

If you go

  • Reggae Roots Jamaican Restaurant is located at 4370 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
  • Contact: 754-701-8407 or ReggaeRootsJA.com
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and mid-day to 7 p.m. Saturdays (closed Sundays)

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