Home Food + Drink Freetown Road Project: Delicious Caribbean Food in Jersey City

Freetown Road Project: Delicious Caribbean Food in Jersey City

by Yiwei Gu
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West Indian food is, lightly put, delicious. Savory, sweet, and everything in-between, creating amazing flavors that melt in your mouth — rich spices and herbs in every dish combined with countless indigenous fruits and plants, creating some of the most beautiful blends of flavors to date. To try them, however, resorts or cruise ships are probably not your best bet. They are to be found in neighborhood bars and road-side eateries, where home-trained chefs fire up the pans and grilles and serve the wonderfully-seasoned dishes, home-cooking style. 

However, we’re lucky enough that here in Hudson County, we have restaurants aplenty to try this cuisine in. Enter — Freetown Road Project. We’re sharing a quick peek into this amazing restaurant located at 640 Newark Avenue in JC, started by reknown Chopped winner Claude Lewis.

freetown road project jersey city

{Photo credit: @freetown_road_project}

How Freetown Road Project Came to Be

claude lewis freetown road

^ Chef Claude and his mom!

{Photo credit: @freetown_road_project}

Freetown Road Project, a budding West Indian restaurant, was started by Claude Lewis, the son of Antiguan immigrants and a Jersey City native. Claude is, in fact, a veteran of the Jersey City food scene — he worked as the executive chef at Porta, where he built its beloved pizza program, and has been running a West Indian catering business since 2015, also called “Freetown Road Project’.” Catering, as he saw it, was a good starting point to “test the water” and practice “making things in large scale,” before spreading his wings to strive for an even higher mission — “to bring a modern and focused  representation of West Indian cuisine.”

Things sped up after he won an episode of Food Network’s culinary competition Chopped in early 2019, in which he ingeniously made gefilte fish into a West Indian-style stew. With the attention he got from the show, Claude decided it was time to build a brand for West Indian food, first through events with Jersey City’s Midnight Market, then the Freetown Road Project restaurant. The idea? Nothing fancy. West Indian food just the way it is made at home — flavorful and delicious. 

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What’s on the Menu

freetown road salt fish dish

{Photo credit: @freetown_road_project}

“The menu essentially [consists of] the food I enjoyed when I was growing up,” Claude told Hoboken Girl. His mom was an excellent home cook and his childhood experience — eating mom’s food and growing up in a loving home — shaped his philosophy for West Indian food. “For guests who are looking for something different from pizza and pasta, I want them to feel welcomed and at home.”

freetown road oxtail dish

{Photo credit: @freetown_road_project}

The food is simple, honest home cooking, but the techniques and seasonings are well-thought-out. There is the oxtail stew — undoubtedly the most popular item on the menu — consists of meaty oxtail, boldly seasoned and slow-cooked until it is melt-in-your-mouth tender. There’s also the lightly-fried fish cake, made with salted fish {typically cod}, a staple in the West Indies — it’s thin, crisp, and savory in flavor. For an even more casual fair, order a flaky beef patty {, or get an extremely flavorful eggplant and okra vegetable curry paired with roti {thin flatbread} to sop up the sauce. 

But it takes more than good food to showcase the glory of West Indian food. “One thing I had to think about is description,” Claude said. Many fruits and plants, though common in the islands, are unfamiliar to local eaters, and he is eager to evangelize the wide use and health benefits of these ingredients. “Take the example of soursop,” he said, a prickly green fruit with a creamy texture and citrusy taste that’s not commonly seen in American supermarkets. “If I tell my guests not only the name, but also where it is from, how it is used, or what the benefits are, they will be a lot more interested, and they will enjoy the food even more! So the food experience can be educational.”

Another twist to tradition at Freetown Road is “presentation,” as Claude calls it. The menu is still evolving and his ambition is to fuse the best of West Indian food with elements of French and Italian cooking, in which Claude is versatile. “For example, the oxtail can potentially be shredded and made into a bolognese-style stew, to be served with pasta. I’m currently developing on a new menu, and it will be really seasonal.” 

The Future of Freetown Road

freetown road project dish

{Photo credit: @freetown_road_project}

And the mission to popularize West Indian food doesn’t stop at Freetown Road Project itself. The spotlight that came with Chopped has connected Claude with many chefs from various parts of West Indies, and when businesses reopen, he has a grand plan to invite them to his Jersey City restaurant periodically to make dishes that originate from their own regions for local guests.

For now, the focus is on the {very} near future. For a new restaurant like Freetown Road Project — it opened in January, two months before the lockdown — surviving the pandemic has been a feat itself. Claude admitted that it had not been easy but “we just never gave up trying.” Currently, when the state is tentatively reopening, amid the uncertainties associated with the pandemic as well as the recent social justice unrest, the need to engage with the community has been more imperative than ever.

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Two days a week, Freetown Road Project delivers food to the homeless, and it also frequently works with local churches and nonprofits to donate food to those in need. The restaurant has also partnered with FLAG {Front Line Appreciation Group} and cooked meals for Hoboken’s Police Department, Fire Department, and Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Currently, the restaurant is open for outdoor dining. “The guests will be eating West Indian food under the umbrellas, with a little breeze, like a Caribbean vacation,” Claude shared. A very authentic one, indeed.

Have you tried food from Freetown Road Project yet? What was your favorite dish? Let us know in the comments!

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