Friday, June 8th | Hilltop’s Jamaican Market & Restaurant | 1061 E. Holt Ave, Pomona, CA 91767
We are sad. We are sad. We are sad.
And, still, hungry. Today: comfort food. Early afternoon, we take White Avenue down to Holt (odd avenue-on-avenue action), and there hook eastward on Holt, passing many of the diverse, independent, and strange shops and restaurants Pomona has to offer. (Someone should really write up Holt, one block at a time, cataloging all its offerings, all the people to be seen.)
Past Reservoir, we flip a u-turn and park in front of Hilltop’s (parking in the back; learn from our mistakes). We walk into a hybrid market/restaurant: one half market, really an eight-foot-wide island of back-to-back shelves and four refrigerators fat with Jamaican cooking staples – curries, jerks, cornmeal, plantains, hot sauces. A cash register sits between the market and the other half, the restaurant, an indoor-thatched roof bar above a smoothie stand in the back and, in the front and middle, about eight tables seating 2-4 people each. Fans turn. The outside day is hot and oppressive; in here, the air is cool. Jamaican décor decorates on the walls (Usain Bolt, check; no bobsledding team: fine). An older couple is quietly finishing their meal. A talk show plays on a wall-mounted flatscreen TV. A woman at the register welcomes us, gives her recommendations, then takes our orders and directs us to sit.
We take turns browsing the market as we wait for our food. The wait isn’t long; the curried items at Hilltop’s are slow cooked, so they’re already prepared in the back kitchen. We’ve ordered a curry chicken pattie ($2.75), a small curry goat ($13; sides: plantains, bean/rice mix, cabbage and vegetables, goat, and a festival, essentially a free-form cornmeal donut), and a small jerk chicken ($12.95; same sides save steamed spinach in place of the cabbage mix).
First the pattie: we’ve had pot pies. We’ve had Welsh pasties. We’ve had meat pies, empanadas, samosas, and other types of stew-filled breads. The curry chicken pattie at Hilltop’s is the best we’ve ever had. The crust is beautifully layered despite its thinness, and the curry chicken stew, spread evenly throughout the pattie, is tender, spiced strongly, and delicious.
It gets better from there. The curry goat comes in a dense, rich, clove-tinged broth and is fork-off-the-bone tender; there’s not a hint of gaminess. The festival is delightfully crunchy/soft/sweet, the plantains are cooked to their perfect dense gumminess, and the inoffensive bean/rice mix makes for a nice gravy-soak (the cabbage is … well, get the ethereal spinach). Then the jerk chicken. It’s unbelievable: peppery, spicy, sweet, and tangy, every bite a slow spread of complex and harmonized flavors. It is, honestly, one of the most flavorful dishes we’ve had.
The TV plays. Other customers come for groceries, for take-out. We eat. The woman checks in on us, takes care of us. The cook comes out and thanks us. We, of course, thank him.
And we feel grateful, nourished, and, at least a little, better.