Occupation: Graduate Student
Location: Palo Alto
Favorite Restaurant: Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill
Reviewed Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill: Friday, February 10, 2012
I haven’t had a chance to go to Jamaica (yet!), but the bright, bold flavors of Back A Yard’s jerk sauce transports me instantly to a place with sun, sand, surf, and steel drum beats.
AMBIANCE: Back A Yard is a small hole-in-the-wall-ish restaurant situated in not the nicest of neighborhoods. But once you look past the grimy exterior and walk in the door, you’re surrounded by brightly painted murals, delicious aromas, and smiling faces. Sure, the space is a bit cramped, but if you can’t find a seat, you can always take your food to go.
SERVICE: The staff working behind the register can sometimes come off as aloof, but are usually warm and friendly. While waiting for my food to come out, I’m usually asked if I want a glass of water, and if I take a seat no one really minds, even if I’m taking my food to go. They’ll bring you your food as soon as it’s out of the kitchen, and leave you alone for the remainder of your meal.
FOOD: I’ve tried a variety of Back A Yard’s offerings (both on my own and for catered events), and always end up returning to the jerk pork. The cut of meat they use has changed over the years (from belly to loin to something in between), but the dish is still delicious. All their meals come with side salad, rice and beans, and fried plantains.
***Jerk Pork ($9.25): Really tender and juicy, and dressed perfectly with that amazing jerk sauce. I always ask for extra sauce so I can eat the side salad with it, and drench the pork and rice and beans in it. MMM so spicy (both in heat and flavor), and really packs a punch… I can’t help but grin when I take a bite. I like saving the fried plantains for last– they’re always so sweet and really round out the meal.
– Curry Goat ($12.50): This dish was also SUPER yummy, but a smidge more difficult to eat (has bones). The goat was fairly tender, and not gamey at all, though the curry sauce would’ve masked it if there was any. The best thing about this dish was that everything is super piping hot– the rice&beans are smothered in the curry gravy/sauce; the entire dish was just so comforting and homey. If it is ever cold in Jamaica, I imagine this is what people would crave.
OVERALL: Back A Yard has definitely become a fixture in my go-to restaurant rotation; j’adore! I love that it’s so unique– there aren’t a ton of Caribbean restaurants in the Bay Area, so I feel super lucky to have this place basically down the street from me. I can’t attest to its authenticity, but you can’t deny that the food is DELICIOUS. I’ll be back and bringing friends.
FYI: you can get the jerk chicken with white meat only ($1 more, but no bones, and still tender and juicy!).
Occupation: Investment Company, Partner
Favorite Restaurant: Bay Wolf Restaurant
Reviewed Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill: Thursday, March 8, 2012
I don’t get down to the South Bay as much as I used to, so I am not as familiar with the restaurant scene as I am with other parts of the Bay Area. Reading the menu for Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill, it sounded like I could be in for a real treat, if it was truly authentic Caribbean food. I’m not a Caribbean food aficionado yet I have experienced a wide variability in the quality of the restaurants offering it around the Bay. But the name alone made me curious about this place. What did it mean? I was intrigued.
It was quite easy to get to, right off of the highway. But you could easily miss it if you don’t know where you are going. The outside of the restaurant is a very plain storefront, much as I expected it might be. It was very clean with big plate glass windows and several tables on the sidewalk for outside seating. As you enter, you realize that it is a small place, and we were glad we got there before noon, so that tables would be available. You look around and the walls are ablaze with color. Wonderfully bright and cheerful murals cover the walls. Red leather chairs added additional color. The counter front was corrugated metal – just like you might imagine seeing if this place was truly in the Caribbean.
As we walked in the Jerk Chicken Meal went by us on the way to someone’s table. The aroma was intoxicating. This smells like it is going to be good! The handwritten white board menus gave several dining options – Jamaican Jerk Meals, BBQ Meals, Seafood, Sandwiches, and Salads. Additionally, the Chef’s Daily Special, which was Curried Chicken the day we were there.
We spent a few minutes reviewing our options, but I think the enticement of the Jerk Chicken was too much to pass up. We stepped up to the counter and ordered one Jerk Chicken Meal and one Jerk Pork Meal, along with the fresh juice of the day – Mango Passion Fruit. Now, it was time for the waiting. Many people came in and out, picking up take out, so that was a good sign. The juice was delicious. It was just the right amount of sweetness. I watched with anticipation as other plates were brought to the tables. The wait was not long for the food to arrive. Both plates were piled high with meat, along with rice and beans, fried plantains, and a green salad. My pork was beautiful chunks of I assume shoulder covered with the Jerk Sauce. First bite was really, really good. Pork perfectly cooked and tender, and the sauce had just the right amount of heat. Additional sauce was provided and I used it all up. The juice was a perfect complement to the spicy meat. The chicken was also very tasty. Dark meat was still so tender and the skin glistened with the yummy sauce (you can get all white meat for $1 extra, but I think jerk style lends itself the dark meat). Both were great, but if I had to pick only one it would be the pork. Heck, next time I’ll get the Pork and Chicken combo and have both all to myself. The rest of the dish was also satisfying. The plantains were beautifully browned and delicious. The rice and beans had some very nice flavors although it was a little sticky. The salad was a basic iceberg lettuce salad with a packet of buttermilk dressing on top (the kind you tear open and squeeze out). I could have done without it, but who comes here for the iceberg lettuce.
Both of us were quite full, we couldn’t possibly fit in dessert. Maybe order some for later, so we got the Sweet Potato Pudding and the Key Lime Pie. Get some work done and have them after we digested. Well, we made it back to my friend’s house and the temptation was too great – time to try dessert. The Sweet Potato pudding was really a pie, and it was quite good – sweet with just the right amount of spices to give it the hint of savory. The Key Lime Pie was delicate and light. It was more subtle and frankly a more satisfying version. The key lime flavor and the sugar were there but were part of the overall pie and not overpowering as they can be in some versions. Both were a great way to end.
My overall experience was quite favorable. If I am in the South Bay, I would make a side trip to go back. The staff was quite friendly and efficient, the atmosphere inside was very cheerful, and the food was divine. My friend lives 10 minutes away, and I think it might become a regular for him and his family. Oh, and the menu explained the name – “Back A Yard” simply means the way things are done “Back Home.”
Occupation: Insurance Professional
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Green Chile Kitchen
Reviewed Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill: Thursday & Friday, March 1 & 2, 2012 (lunch); Monday, March 7, 2012 (dinner)
I have been in love with Jamaican food since visiting the island over twenty years ago. I have since returned to Jamaica several times. I have learned that Jamaicans are easygoing people who are serious about their food. Chicken should be the national bird, and Jerk Chicken is prepared everywhere, including makeshift BBQs on the side of the road and huts near the beach.
The Jamaican restaurant Back a Yard is easy to find right off highway 101 at Willow Road. It is a small place that is easily hidden by the large crowds that surround it at lunchtime. I stopped in for lunch one day when I was in the area for business and came back twice in the next week because I could not stop thinking about the food.
My first visit I ordered food to go over the phone as I drove home from meetings in San Jose. A woman with a Jamaican accent helped me order, and she was very patient and helpful despite it sounding very busy. She let me know what the special of the day was, and fortunately for me it was curried goat. I know from my travels to Jamaica how good curried goat can be. I got a jerk chicken and curried goat combo plate for $16.00. It included red beans and rice, plus fried plantains and a side salad. The Jerk Chicken was perfect! Tender and perfectly spicy. They also provide a small side of authentic jerk sauce that brought me back to my days in Jamaica. The plantains were tasty and not too sweet or oily. The goat with yellow curry sauce was hot, just the way it should be, and the meat fell right off the bone.
The next day I returned with a colleague for a sit down lunch. We got there at 11:30 am and just barely missed the lunch rush. As soon as we sat down, a steady stream of patrons appeared out of nowhere and just kept coming. We enjoyed people watching, as locals from around the block mixed in with preppy financiers and casual techies. Most people were getting food to go as the space inside and out filled up. I did see some people show up early and find a table for seven.
I tried the Salmon Salad, and my friend had the jerk chicken and salmon combo. Everything was great. The salmon was cut like a steak, thick in the middle, and was cooked perfectly. The salad was not as green as I would have liked, and the tomatoes were not very flavorful, but I enjoyed the salmon. I returned on Wednesday of the next week for dinner, and was curious to see if the crowds were still there at night. I arrived at 7:30 pm and was happy to see the line was not long and tables were available. A buddy who works in Palo Alto met me there. We ordered the Jerk Chicken and Ox Tail Combo and the BBQ Pork Rib plate. The Ox Tail was good but not at good as the goat. It was tender off the bone with a rich dark gravy. My friend had the rib plate that he liked that had a thick BBQ sauce on it that was very good. The ribs were tender but not falling off the bone, which is perfect for ribs you eat with your hands. The young woman at the counter recommended we try the corn festivals, which are deep fried cornballs. They were great with the meal and we enjoyed them more as the meal progressed.
Overall the experience was very good. I would recommend this place to others and I am looking forward to returning to this authentic Jamaican Grill.