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Owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, Mo-Bay restaurant in Fort Greene is all about family traditions, but most importantly, family recipes - held in utmost secrecy.

Annette Hew, 62, and daughter Sheron Barnes, 43, built on the success of Hew’s "famous" rummy-rum cake, and opened their "Caribbean soul cuisine" restaurant and bakery at 112 DeKalb Ave. - just a few blocks from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They recruited Barnes’ 65-year-old Jamaican-Chinese aunt, Avis Hoo, from Miami to develop the menu - which is a fusion of Caribbean and Asian flavors - and to train the chefs.

Celebrating its second birthday on June 8, the intimate eatery has a thatched awning over the counter and hardwood floors that evoke an island ambiance. Yellow banquettes with small tables line one wall, and another wall boasts wide windows looking onto the busy avenue. The meals are served on festive ceramic plates alongside colorful linen napkins.

Barnes says that while Mo-Bay does a lively takeout business, it varies from the usual Caribbean restaurant because it’s an intimate, comfortable eatery that is also romantically candlelit in the evenings.

"You have no idea how many engagement rings I’ve put in fruit punch," she says.

A house-made and very spicy ginger beer drink with its crunchy sugar crystals and the traditional island drink "sorrell" (which tastes like berries - for the less adventurous among us) are just two of the distinctive Mo-Bay drinks that complement the flavors of its entrees. (Other temptations we didn’t try include ginger and mint teas and fresh-squeezed cane juice.)

The Mo-Bay (slang for Montego Bay, Jamaica) menu has a large selection of dishes for lunch and dinner, and it certainly has something tasty to accommodate the meat-eaters, the fish-lovers and the vegetarians in your party. Barnes is especially proud of the texturized soy protein she uses in the vegetarian dishes which - with her rich, complex sauces - makes eating veggie very palatable.

Among the appetizers, Mo-Bay serves up perfect triangles of crisp "bammies" (ground cassava made into bread), a must to sop up those rich sauces on the entrees to come. Dinner is served with large squares of sweet, warm cornbread with their signature white coconut-pineapple sauce. While the color is pallid and unappetizing, it’s so sweet and good with the cornbread you could enjoy it for dessert or with a spicy dish.

Other appetizers include grilled, fried or jerk shrimp with mango salsa and fried catfish.

Among the entrees, highlights include the moist, succulent jerk chicken (in a top-secret, homemade sauce - though I tried to wrangle the recipe out of Barnes), a stew of tender oxtail meat cooked with ginger and onions and, my absolute favorite - salmon smothered in a creamy coconut-curry sauce with onions and tomatoes.

Mo-Bay also serves fried and blackened catfish, deep-fried whiting and snapper served up four ways: brown-stewed, escovitched (fried, covered with spicy marinade and refrigerated), "run dun" (simmered in a coconut sauce with tomatoes, onions, thyme and hot peppers) and steamed.

The entrees are served with two sides, and while Barnes says some customers are obsessed with discovering the unusual flavoring of the smoky collard greens (she says customers insist they’re flavored with meat, which she staunchly denies), I preferred the more simply flavored sides of rice and peas or steamed cabbage.

Among the "vegetarian delights," the "vegi salmon" (texturized soy-protein stewed with onions and tomatoes in a brown gravy) wrapped in blackened, crispy seaweed, tasted remarkably like salmon and was topped with gaily colored peppers in a coconut-curry sauce. It’s a substantial, filling meal. (And that’s coming from a vegetarian-phobic eater.)

Before you leave, be sure to sample some of Hew’s warm, nutty rum cake with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Light and airy at its point and decadently rich and rummy at the back, its range of flavor and ethereal consistency clear up any doubts as to whether or not this cake should be deemed "famous." Other desserts we didn’t try (but will go back for!) include the chocolate rum and apricot cake, pistachio cake and sweet potato pie.

When you have to get away from the hot Brooklyn streets, or are in search of a pre-theater meal, the warm, friendly service at Mo-Bay and its sweet yet bold flavors promise to transport you to more carefree climes.

And unlike your own family, when you visit the Mo-Bay clan, you won’t be driven crazy.

 

Mo-Bay Restaurant [112 DeKalb Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene) accepts MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $8.75-$15.75. For take-out and delivery, call (718) 246-2800. Mo-Bay only accepts reservations for parties of four or more on weekends. For more information, visit www.mobayrestaurant.com on the Web.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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