Amos Ferguson belongs in the kitchen.
You'll understand why after you've tasted his crisp-skinned, dry-rubbed jerk chicken; stupid-good Caribbean pork ribs; dense, herb-laced conch fritters; soft, charred barracuda steaks; tender, tangy goat curry; and sides from lightly caramelized plantains to smoked-turkey-infused collard greens. And you too will lament the fact that he's just now fulfilled his dream of opening a restaurant, called Three Delights Caribbean Grill, after spending 40-plus years across other professions.
The food passion began early for Ferguson, born in the middle of 11 children on Crooked Island, one of the Southernmost and most remote Bahamian landmasses.
"Where we grew up, there's not McDonald's. You have to fend for yourself — catch and cook your own food. We grew our own vegetables, raised our own animals. The only thing we bought was rice ... We never had a stove. All our food was cooked over open flame, and we used a brick oven to bake in."
Ferguson's parents separated when he was 6 and both passed away shortly thereafter, leaving him and five younger sisters in the care of his grandparents. At age 9, Ferguson began accompanying his grandmother to work inside a prestigious hotel kitchen, where he'd assist on prep work. Most of his "old island" recipes are passed down from her, and date back more than 150 years with influences from both African and European cuisines.
But even with such auspicious restaurant beginnings, Ferguson pursued the following crafts, trades and careers between schooling and, more recently, helping raise his own three children: certified lifeguard, scuba diver and beach activities coordinator; hairdresser and nail technician at his own beauty salon ("I can put your wife's face on her fingernail, airbrushed free-hand"); propane-generator salesman at his own company; self-employed accountant; and construction worker with certifications in welding and heavy-duty machinery operation.
It's that latter field in which Ferguson has spent much of the last six years locally, since FedEx promoted his wife Lunita and sent the family to the area. Over the last two years, he also ran a smaller version of Three Delights as a special-event mobile cart and catering business. Now that he's finally livin' the dream, he envisions restaurant expansions and many years of delighting Springs eaters, until an eventual return to the Bahamas.
"I'm not going back until I have my own 36-foot boat," he says.
That should give you ample time to eat your way through his continually updated whiteboard menu, which includes items like snapper, grouper, jerk shrimp, oxtail stew and smoked salmon, all of which I didn't even get to try yet. But it also tells you that this isn't a man who's retreated to the kitchen for some half-assed, quasi-retirement — this is a man thrilled to finally be there, all day, six days a week, with big visions.
That's the man you want delicately frying your fish, slowly smoking your meats out back over oak and apple wood, and sweet-talking you into a slice of his excellent, elusively citrusy Da fAmos Cheesecake ($3.75) with a charming boastfulness that isn't out of place behind his warm smile.
It should go without saying that Ferguson makes everything from scratch, including a delicious tartar sauce, Thousand Island-like fritter dip, and two barbecue sauces (one spicy) with a surprising secret ingredient as their base. (Be nice and he might tell you.) A soon-to-come jerk sauce takes him three days of concoction and reduction, he says.
Even sides as simple as rice get added attention, picking up flavor and color from incorporated vegetables and pigeon peas cooked with salted pork. The Island Mac n' Cheese starts with real cheddar, herbs and a habañero kiss — all subtle in the final flavor. Other sides are humble, but well-prepared: corn on the cob is actually firm, green beans have crunch, friend okra meets the Southern norm, and sweet potato fries are home-style satisfying.
Ferguson butchers whole Colorado goats himself and pays a hefty price to ship in fresh fish, including the wonderful conch. That'll set you back $4.99 half dozen/$8.99 dozen in fritter form or $16.59 fried on its own, where it tastes like a more delicate, less chewy calamari under an airy batter doused in a lime squeeze.
"If I price the conch to make a profit, nobody would buy it," he says. As it is, the conch pretty much caps the dinner-plate price range, with other items as low as $10 and including two sides and drink; lunches are $7 to $10, with one side and a drink.
Above all, Ferguson wants to introduce the true flavor and culture of the Bahamas here. He's quick to tell stories about a handful of photos on the otherwise blank walls of the bright and clean former sub-shop location. The photos share inviting views of places like the pink-sand beaches on Harbour Island, and Junkanoo parade scenes. Reggae and calypso music thumps softly throughout the space, enhancing the pull to book a trip as soon as possible to the colorful, sandy paradise that obviously wants for nothing in the way of flavor. At least the way Amos depicts it.