The Cultural Kitchen


Change — and Clive’s — is universal

Posted on Thu, Jul. 31, 2008



Pearline Murray, right, and her sister-in-law and cook, Gloria Chin, shows off Clive’s escovitched fish and, on the counter, rice and beans with plantains.

Inside Clive’s, the décor has seen better days. Outside the Wynwood diner, better days might be coming. The one constant has been the food — straight out of Jamaica: rich stews, piquant snapper and jerk.

It’s a story of endurance. Pearline Murray opened Clive’s Café with her late husband, Clifford, 32 years ago. It was a different Wynwood, whirring with economic vitality. ”It was mostly industrial, it had a lot of factories. Our main clientele was factory workers,” says Murray, 66.

Across from where I am, a factory used to employ 250 workers. Another one, David & Dash, had 150 workers. Then there was Cordis, Jefferson’s, Sears, Jordan Marsh. Dorissa’s manufactured children’s wear. Those were my customers.”

Murray was a newcomer to Miami, having moved here, after one visit, with her family from Jamaica.

Folks visit Miami all the time, fall in love with its robust sensuality and — voilá! — they’re your neighbors. Murray was smitten by a cute, little sandwich shop that was for sale.

”I came up on vacation and saw it and fell in love with it,” Murray says. “At first, I didn’t think that this country was for me. Work work, work — it gives you no time.”

With Murray’s sister, Gloria Chin, as cook, Clive’s continued to churn out quick, easy meals for factory workers on 30-minute lunch breaks. And Murray renamed the restaurant for her son, Clive, who as a young boy made lunch deliveries. He’s 42 now.

Then came the 1980s and early ’90s. As manufacturing moved overseas, the factories began to close. The department stores began to do the same. The corridor grew desolate. Murray changed her menu to Jamaican and went after a broader clientele.

”I get customers from Spain, France, England — a lot from the Bahamas, Guyana, Central America,” she says. “I’m universal.”

And now that Wynwood is transitioning into an arts district, she hopes to bring in still others.

Murray says word of mouth is her best promotional tool, but a whiff of her jerk chicken on the grill is just as persuasive. The jerk, of course, packs heat and spice; oxtails are beefy and unctuous; escovitched fish pricks the palate with an onion-vinegar hit; and if you like pig’s feet, in all its gelatinous glory, you’ll love cow foot.

The narrow, lunch-counter café looks much as it did three decades ago — and customers like it that way.

”Look at the paneling, it’s the same. The stools are the same,” Murray says. “Each time I want to change it, everybody says don’t change it. It makes them feel like it’s a home away from home.”


Nancy Ancrum writes about the culinary legacy of the African diaspora.


Place: Clive’s Café.

Address: 2818 North Miami Ave., Miami.

Contact: 305 576-0277

Hours: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Prices: Entrees $6-$12.50, desserts $2.

FYI: Beer available. Cash only. Parking behind building.

The Miami Herald July 31 2008