Visitors never ceased to be mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, smells, and taste of the bustling culinary scene in Florida. Nicknamed the “Sunshine State”, Florida is one of those states where you can become captivated by the diversity of its culinary scene whether it’s fine dining, the farmer’s market, a street fair, or a quaint café. I’ve said it once, and I will say it again, any direction you choose, the road will take you to a dining experience that simmers and stirs your soul, leaving you breathless and yearning for more, and definitely bringing you back time and time again to Florida.
Orlando, Florida, known as the home of our beloved Mickey Mouse has turned into a mecca of culinary delights and hidden treasures attracting foodies and celebrate chefs alike. Just six miles north of Orlando, you will find the historic town of Eatonville. This historic little town is the oldest and the nation’s first incorporated black township and is part of the Orlando–Kissimmee metropolitan statistical area and is known as the town “Where Dreams Are Made.”
Although author Zora Neale Hurston, the Harlem Renaissance writer best known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” might be Eatonville’s most celebrated celebrity, Chef Jenn has become a household name with her Jamaican vegan dishes and her home-made vegan ice cream. Believe it or not, it all started with an idea, a blog, teaching cooking classes, a meal plan and delivery service, and a restaurant in the middle of a gas station in Orlando, Florida.
Jenneil “Jenn” Ross, chef and owner of the DaJen Eats Café & Creamery left her beloved home of Jamaica at the tender age of 16 and found herself in America and quickly learned that dining in might be a more cost-effective way to save money instead of dining out. A self-taught chef, Jenn studied the art of cooking and learned how to cook and eventually harness her craft and created vegan dishes that provided a healthier option to those who frequent inside the Citgo on North Orange Blossom Trail near Lee Road where DaJen Eats first started and became well-known for their vegan-Jamaican sandwiches and rice bowls. After Jenn’s lease in Citgo abruptly ended, Jenn introduced her cult following to something as equally as amazing as her vegan food and lead her followers to her café in the historic Eatonville at 323 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Eatonville is a predominately African American community and food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States is usually prepared in a style of cooking originated during American slavery referred to as “soul food”. Although soul food is often referred to as comfort food, soul food was born out of the necessity and survival of African slaves who were given only the undesirable cuts of meat from their masters. Ingredients commonly found in soul food has contributed to the high occurrences of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiac and circulatory problems among African Americans.
For the residents of the historic Eatonville and its surrounding communities, Dajen Eats raises the bar on the culinary diversity that is available within the community providing a healthier food option without sacrificing taste. My impromptu visit to Eatonville led me to DaJen Eats for Sunday Brunch. Normally during the week, DaJen Eats’ menu consists mostly of their famous vegan-Jamaican sandwiches and rice bowls. However, Sunday is a day of decadence at DaJen Eats. My palate was seduced by the deliciously plant-powered ode to the classic Jamaican Oxtail, “Hoax Tail”. There’s a saying at DaJen Eats “The “meat” may be a hoax, dahling, but the flavor is real.” To say that the flavor was real would be an understatement, I don’t think that I ever had a real oxtail as flavorful and as delicious as the DaJen Eats’ hoax tail.
While dining in the café a couple dining at the table across from me suggested that I try the mouth-watering Curry Chick’n and Potatoes. As an island girl, curry chicken and potatoes is one of those comfort food dishes that I always looked forward to my mom making as a child. I’ve tried many times to duplicate my mom’s recipe, I’ve ordered it plenty of times in Caribbean restaurants and always found myself disappointed because it just wasn’t as good as my mom’s, well until now. Hands down this was the best non-chicken, curry chicken and potatoes dish I have ever had, I’m sorry mom.
There’s also plenty of other options on the menu like Jerk Chick’n Flatbread, Jerk BBQ Jackfruit Sammich, Ackee & Toast, Brown-Stew Cauliflower, Garlic toast and all if Pur Salads. On this particular day Chef Jenn was preparing for the launch of her first Dinner and A Story Book Club featuring the book “BECOMING” by Michelle Obama. The atmosphere was as vibrant, fun-loving, and as charismatic as Chef Jenn. Her adoration for books is clearly front and centered inside the café, you will find a free lending library area designed with all the comforts of home. Her goal is to open people’s mind to something new and make veganism and African American culture accessible to everyone.
While I was browsing through the books and eating Irie Cream, the Irie Cream is DaJen Eats homemade vegan ice cream, I found myself ending a perfect afternoon at DaJen Eats with an Irie ending with a little “Rum Raisin The Roof”. Irie pronounced Eye-ree means a good or pleasing, state of mind, and I was definitely pleased with my entire culinary experience.
Vegnews declared DaJen Eats “Rum Raisin The Roof” Irie Cream as one of the top 50 desserts in the United States. However, if you can’t make it to Eatonville during your visit to Orlando for this grown-up version of Chef Jenn’s favorite ice cream, then head over to Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Winter Park on Park Avenue and grab DaJen Eats’ “Rum Raisin The Roof” Irie Cream in Peterbrooke Chocolatier grab and go freezer. The raisins in this grown-up treat are soaked in spiced overproof rum for at least 3 weeks.
Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, DaJen Eats will definitely bring us to Eatonville time and time again. It’s no wonder why DaJen Eats has been crowned the Best Caribbean Restaurant during 2018 Best of Orlando Reader’s Choice competition hosted by Orlando Weekly. DaJen Eats is definitely the Home of the Irie, Happy Vegan. However, if you’re not a vegan, don’t worry, the food will seduce you into becoming one.
DaJen Eats Cafe & Creamery
Address: 323 E Kennedy Blvd suite f, Eatonville, FL 32751
Order: grubhub.com, seamless.com
Phone: (407) 775-5791