In Caribbean culture, food creates distinct connections between people and other cultures.
For Carleen and Garfield Hartman, the Hartman Jerk Center created a space to share their love for their home countries and their native food.
The couple opened the Caribbean restaurant in April with hopes of bringing the flavors of both Jamaica and Guyana to Wilkes-Barre.
“We migrated from New York about five years ago, and we noticed there was not much of a variety of our culture around here,” Carleen Hartman said.
After serving Caribbean fusion-styled food out of a parking lot in downtown Wilkes-Barre for some time, the couple jumped on the opportunity to open up shop where a sushi restaurant previously stood.
And the restaurant itself embodies the culture of the Caribbean.
Upon walking into the 35-seat restaurant on South Main Street, customers are greeted by a bright yellow welcome mat. Strains of reggae music flow through the eatery and 25 small flags that represent each of the Caribbean nations hang above the countertop. Larger flags from Guyana, Jamaica and the United States are posted on the walls as a nod to the owners’ countries of origin as well as their current home.
Garfield Hartman cooks each dish for the restaurant, blending his experience cooking in the Army, hints from his grandmother and the influence of flavors he grew up surrounded by.
“(Garfield) is Guyanese and I’m Jamaican,” Carleen Hartman said. “The food is a sort of fusion between both. It’s authentic Jamaican and Guyanese … We all (in the Caribbean) eat the same foods. We might call it something different, or cook it in a different way, but it’s the same food.”
Some customer favorites include oxtail and butterbeans and variations of jerk fish, chicken and pork.
“We can’t have enough oxtail,” Carleen Hartman said. “We’re here working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and we constantly have oxtail cooking. People love it because of the flavor and the way it’s cooked.”
Other specialties include a featured soup every Friday, ranging from cow foot and chicken foot to goat head soup. Each Friday, the restaurant also serves national dishes such as ackee and salt fish or callaloo with salt fish, which are served with festival dumplings.
When asked about future goals for the restaurant, Carleen Hartman quickly said she wanted to open two more restaurants — one in the Poconos and one in Hazleton. Though, she said they would also like to expand into Scranton as well, due to requests from residents in those regions.
“I love meeting different people from the different cultures,” she said. “When they come in, they first check to see if their flag is up there. And every single flag from inside here, I’ve seen someone come in from that place.”
The restaurant gained a widespread fanbase through radio ads and word of mouth, she added. One customer, originally from St. Lucia, drove more than two hours to get to the restaurant, tacking on additional time on for getting lost along the way. But when she arrived, the restaurant had every bit of food she was hoping for.
“She sat down, ate her food and said it was well worth the drive, that she’d definitely be back,” Carleen Hartman said with a smile. “Those are the things I’m happy for. Representing the Caribbean, the language, the culture. People start talking the way they would in their home countries, and they get a taste of home away from home.”
— charlotte l. jacobson
Hartman Jerk Center
Address: 72 S. Main St., Wilkes-Barre
Established: April 1
Cusine: Jamaican and Guyanese fusion
Owners: Carleen and Garfield Hartman
Hours: Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Online: Visit Hartman Jerk Center on Facebook.
Garden State native Marco Benevento is no stranger to Northeast Pennsylvania. He has shared his singing and piano-playing talents with the area since 2004, and continues to come back because of the area’s hospitality.
“The hospitality from (local promoter) Tom Moran is the main reason we come back, “ he said. “He is a great host, and the crowd we play for is great as well. It has been over a year since we played there, so it will be nice to go back.”
Benevento hails from Livingston, New Jersey, and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, Boston, where the pianist physically received his college diploma from Ziggy Stardust himself: David Bowie.
“I was touched by magic,” he said with a laugh. “It was very cool to shake his hand and have him hand me my diploma. But actually, (saxophonist and composer) Wayne Shorter was another guest speaker at the graduation, and, at the time, I was way more into jazz, so I knew about him. (But) I am going through a big Bowie phase now, so it is cool to look back on.”
Benevento will perform his own blend of psych-jazz-jam rock at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Twp. on Friday, June 16, when he takes the stage at 10 p.m. to promote his first live record, “Woodstock Sessions.”
“We are playing side A of the album in its entirety,” he said. “We will mix in some older tunes but it will be mostly our newest album. This one has some longer-ended jams in it because we loved recording it. All that energy, the live audience, everything.”
Benevento will belt out the vocals and jam on piano while Karina Rykman strums the bass and Andy Borger pounds out a rhythm on the drums. “Woodstock Sessions” represents a different sound for the trio thanks to Benevento taking on vocal duties.
“I have a little studio next to my house, and after the kids go to bed, from about 10 p.m. to midnight, I turn on everything and just record,” he said. “I sort of just go instead of having something to play, and then I go back and edit what I improvised. Just trim the fat.”
The rock trio finds influence in groups like Gorillaz and the Talking Heads, and feels excited to get back to the Jazz Cafe where everyone is “in your face.”
“We take a bit of that edge, on-your-feet sort of music, and get people dancing,” Benevento said. “We like the Jazz Cafe because it is like we are partying with the people.”
— samantha stanich
If you go
Location: River Street Jazz Cafe, 667 N. River St., Plains Twp.
Date: 10 p.m., Friday, June 16; doors at 8 p.m.
Details: Tickets for the 21-and-over show cost $15, and can be purchased by visiting www.riverstreetjazzcafe.com.
Retakes and Redefinitions
CONOR OBERST – “Salutations”
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Conor Oberst comes back with his second album in six months.
THE BAD: Prolific? Kind of. A rerun? Sort of.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Last fall, Oberst released the unplugged and intimate “Ruminations,” a ten-song collection featuring the man accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, piano and harmonica. “Salutations” is that record’s companion piece, featuring all ten of those tunes given the full band treatment plus an additional seven new compositions.
So “Salutations” is more complex and fleshed out, the songs and their rich arrangements ringing true. Yet the new record also is less distinct than its predecessor. There’s something to be said for raw emotion — songs being all the more powerful when stripped to their bare essence. And when ten cuts become 17, there’s bound to be a few weaker links in the chain.
“Salutations” at times comes off as just another latter-day Bright Eyes release. Not bad, but lacking in the passionate sting found on last year’s set.
BUY IT?: Sure.
MINUS THE BEAR – “Voids”
THE GOOD: Seattle indie rock outfit Minus the Bear goes back to Suicide Squeeze Records for their sixth full-length.
THE BAD: Just like every other Minus record, “Voids” has great moments and meandering ones. The band likes its intricate arrangements and prog-rock inclinations. You always have to work a little.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Permanent long-time drummer Erin Tate has bailed, and the self-produced “Voids” finds touring drummer Kiefer Matthias sitting in. Other than that, the set finds no great changes within the band or their sound. This is typical Minus. Longtime fans should feel just fine in their comfort zone; “Voids” hits all the desired sweet spots.
Vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider leads the crew through a set of tracks both straight-forward (the shimmering “Last Kiss” and churning “Invisible”) and more broad in scope (the dramatic “What About the Boat” and forever-building “Lighthouse”). Sure, “Voids” is slightly interchangeable with other Minus sets, but the record never drags or wears out its welcome.
BUY IT?: As usual, your choice.
SPOON – “Hot Thoughts”
THE GOOD: Texas indie rockers Spoon give us their ninth.
THE BAD: Nope.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman Britt Daniel and the guys stick with the well-oiled Spoon formula, but add just enough color and sonic textures to give “Hot Thoughts” its own personality. Producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, OK GO) is back, but first impressions make the set feel more like a James Murphy record. Seriously, “Thoughts” is sprinkled with more electronic elements than usual and most of these songs are all about a fierce dedicated groove. Very LCD Soundsystem indeed.
But “Thoughts” doesn’t lock itself into any particular flavor for too long. The lilting “I Ain’t the One” is quite possibly the prettiest song Daniel has ever composed. And extended cuts “Pink Up” and “Us” go off into unchartered funk and jazz territories. Plus Spoon manages to embrace these sounds without coming off as self-indulgent. We end up with another gem in a “reliable” catalog that’s been progressing nicely for two decades.
BUY IT?: Definitely.
Rapper Jared Xavier grew up with music coursing through his veins — most teenagers in New York do, he said.
The Staten Island-born musician, now based in Wilkes-Barre, performs across Northeast Pennsylvania, promoting his love for hip-hop, jazz and neo soul music to create his own path. Xavier recently discussed his process for writing music, the release of his first EP — set to come out later this year — and where he sees his musical career going.
Q: How did you get involved in music?
A: Growing up in New York, that’s all we heard. It was a major part of the culture.
Q: What do you remember about the first time you performed in public?
A: I was the main act at the show, so I was very nervous, but I had a good amount of support, so it was great.
Q: What is the process like for writing your music?
A: It’s always different, but I usually listen to the beat for days and get my mind right, then I simply talk about normal stuff that goes on in my life.
Q: Have you been working on any new music lately? If so, can you tell me about it?
A: As of right now, I’m working on my first EP called “The Love Is Rare.” It’s going be a quick look into my life as a whole.
Q: How have you changed as a musician over the years?
A: I’ll change a lot. Sometimes I think I change too much. It’s a battle I often have with myself, but I know it’s for the better.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories as a musician?
A: My favorite memory is when I threw my first LTI event at The Other Side. It really let me know how many people supported the movement. LTI is my brand, Live to Inspire. It was my first show I put together independently. I did my own promotion and everything.
Q: How has the NEPA music scene changed over the years?
A: I feel like there are a lot of the big-time artists coming out here more than ever, but on the same hand, the independent scene isn’t looking too good.
Q: Who has influenced you over the years?
A: I used to be highly influenced by other artists in the game, but as of right now I feel like life is what influences me the most.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a musician?
A: The biggest challenge is trying to be successful at this music thing. It can be very difficult at times.
Q: What are your future goals for your music?
A: My future goal is to be happy with how things are going musically, and for one day to get the recognition it deserves.
— charlotte l. jacobson
Meet the artist
Based out of: Wilkes-Barre
Genre: Hip-hop and rap
For fans of: J Cole, Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa
Online: Jared Xavier on SoundCloud, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook