It is a bit difficult for me to decide how to describe Jrama’s Soulfood Grille & Barbecue Pit. For one thing, the restaurant, housed in a former fast food joint in a strip mall on Upper Front Street just north of exit 6 from northbound I-81, although it has been open for several months, still has its “soft opening” menu, suggesting that changes are likely. That menu, however, is supplemented by a variety of daily specials announced by the owner as people arrive. And arrive they do. We stopped in well after the traditional 1PM end of lunch hour and the place was packed. When we left, there was a line for service and people were still coming in. So clearly Jrama’s has found a niche.
Jrama’s concept is to provide freshly-made, often locally-sourced food made to recipes handed down through the owner’s family. The Soul Food menu struck me as more American comfort food—mac ‘n’ cheese, fried chicken, fried cat fish, baked beans, and cornbread—as well as such favorites as collard greens and spicy cabbage. A nice selection but missing such soul food staples as chit’lins and organ meats. However, the menu does include some Jamaican dishes like candied yams and rice and peas. Today’s specials included other Jamaican favorites: ox tails and jerk chicken. In any event the line between Island cuisine and Soul Food is a bit blurry and the selection is certainly appealing.
Being something of a BBQ connoisseur, I started out with the chopped pork BBQ sandwich. It was a generous portion served on a soft roll with the traditional coleslaw. I was surprised that it was Kansas-city style: lightly smoked with a cloyingly sweet, mild sauce. My wife had the BBQ chicken leg. It had the same too-sweet sauce but was cooked to perfection on a grill in the parking lot. Frankly, I much prefer Carolina-style pulled pork with a spicy vinegar-based sauce so I do not expect to have Jrama’s BBQ again. But then, as the lines indicate, Jrama’s knows its clientele. I do expect, however, to be back to try some of the Jamaican specialties.
One word of caution if you plan to try Jrama’s on your lunch hour: like many local restaurants I have visited, they have not mastered the concept of a quick lunch. I suppose that is the price of a made-to-order menu, but it would perhaps be good if they had a lunch menu of items that can produced a bit more quickly. Still, at least on the Friday we were there, the wait did not seem to discourage anyone.
Jrama’s Soulfood Grille & Barbecue Pit
1237 Front Street, Binghamton
Open Thursday-Saturday, 12pm-10pm