Nestled just between Birdsall House and Iron Vine on the corner of Main and Division Streets in Peekskill, Touch of Class Caribbean Fusion Cuisine has only been open a few months – their soft open was in March and the official grand opening was June 8, but they are already booming and fitting in quite well for the town’s thriving dining culture.
Chef Maurice McDonald, or “Chef Mo,” as he insists upon, grew up in Jamaica. “Not the oldest, but the eldest,” he says, and as a result began helping with food preparation at a young age. As he tells it, he was cooking for tourists on the street under a tree he planted himself when he was asked by impressed customers which hotel he worked for. When they discovered that answer was none, they immediately offered him a job at theirs: the Ritz-Carlton. Taking every opportunity to work in and near the kitchen, he worked his way up until he was eventually poached by a restaurant, then Secrets Resort, and finally made the jump to personal chef. It was then that Chef Mo moved to the U.S. and met his partner, Sherina Richards.
Chef Mo holding dessert plates
It was Sherina who encouraged Mo to stop running other people’s restaurants and open his own. Noticing a small sign in the corner of a Chinese take-out joint’s window was the opportunity they’d waited for. The couple who owned the shop was, not all that eagerly, soliciting offers on their kitchen space, though seeing something of themselves in Richards and McDonald, they happily handed over the keys and retired. Touch of Class now had a gorgeous kitchen and dining room in the heart of downtown Peekskill.
The things Chef Mo does in that kitchen are frankly astounding. The menu is a mélange of classic American, Italian, and Asian dishes, all of them tweaked with Chef Mo’s flare for spices and flavor pairings. “I appreciate good people,” he says. “Good people love good food. If you keep coming, I’m gonna keep making you good food.”
Some of the highlight appetizers include coconut shrimp splashed with coconut rum, and a trio of spring rolls: Jamaican jerk chicken with a ginger-pineapple sauce, ackee & cod with a spinach cream dip, and veggie rolls with a tangy mango sauce.
The playfulness with flavors continues into the entrées. Ribs, an American standard, get an Appleton rum and tamarind barbecue sauce. The curry jumbo shrimp get paired with bright and flavorful broccolini and lemongrass-jasmine rice. Lamb is coated in honey mustard before being crusted with parsley, rosemary, thyme, and a few other herbs, then topped with red wine jús and served with mint jelly. Snapper is served up three ways: steamed, seared, or Escovitch style (sort of a Jamaican Ceviche) with a creamy coconut polenta.
Herb crusted lamb with mint jelly.
One of Richards’ favorite dishes is the “Rasta Pasta,” which she says she ate almost nightly when pregnant with the couple’s first child. “It’s pasta with jerk chicken and vegetables, but instead of marinara he [Mo] does a coconut-cream sauce. It’s amazing.”
When pressed to ‘choose amongst his children’ for his own favorite dish, Chef Mo begrudgingly but definitively offers up ital stew. A staple of Rastafarian cooking, ital stew is full of fresh vegetables and (v)ital nutrients, hence its name. “My father was Rasta, so my mother always had two sets of pans in the house.” Yes, despite preparing ribs, lobster, fish, pork, and some of the most perfectly cooked lamb you’ll ever enjoy, Chef Mo is himself vegetarian.
That love of vibrant and nutritious ingredients is part of what allows Chef Mo to craft such well-balanced dishes. His sides aren’t an afterthought; they’re a pairing to the main ingredient that helps build a whole meal. Produce is sourced locally from the Peekskill Farmers’ Market – unless it’s summer, then the sweet peppers for their house-made plantain chips and salsa were more likely grown out back. That level of freshness is hard to beat.
With that kind of philosophy, you’d be a fool to skip out on dessert. House specialties include mango-passion cheesecake and rum-raisin-bread à la mode (normally served with rum-raisin ice cream but we tried it with one made from Jamaican brewery Desnoes & Geddes’s Dragon Stout and that was an absolutely brilliant call on Chef Mo’s part). The customer-favorite far and wide, though, seems to be the flourless chocolate cake. It’s light and fluffy, not overly dense like many flourless cakes, and drizzled with a four-berry sauce infused with Hennessy, then topped with fresh berries. And yes, Chef Mo makes every bit of that in-house.
“I don’t buy dessert from anyone else. It’s the only way I can guarantee quality for my customers.” That quality is apparent in everything Touch of Class puts on the table, from their signature cocktails adorned with adorable lime-carved creatures (the TOC rum punch, but the TOC cucumber lime & ginger mojito is nothing to scoff at either), to the still water poured into your glass (it’s infused with fresh fruit and herbs).
â€‹Peekskill residents and travelers alike will love the charm and positivity of this new eatery, to say nothing of the delicious meals. It lends Peekskill a certain… touch of class.
Touch of Class Caribbean Fusion Cuisine
990 Main Street, Peekskill
Tues-Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sun: 11:00 a.m. – 8 p.m.