“I see some familiar faces out there!”
From his post in the Unforgettable Flavors kitchen, executive chef and owner Neville Nugent greets me and my roommates as his relatives, or at least something more than just five starving college kids making their second trip to College Park’s hidden gourmet gem. His customer service is something he prides himself on — it’s his staple, like ball movement for Gregg Popovich or beats and tweets for Kanye West. Working in his father’s restaurant in his native Jamaica, Nugent learned the power of hospitality.
“You always greet your customer with a smile,” the chef explained. “Make them feel comfortable, and let them feel at home.”
Nugent understands that finding his restaurant, which lies (to the maddening dismay of any navigation system) in the Seven Springs Apartments complex, is an experience in itself. So when a customer comes through his doors, Nugent’s infectious smile and calmly cool Caribbean demeanor as he proclaims, “Welcome to Unforgettable Flavors!” create an atmosphere that makes the relatively wild goose chase of finding the restaurant worth it.
Oh, and then there’s the food.
If the customer hasn’t already been persuaded to become a regular (as I now have) by the unbelievably welcoming environment, Nugent’s signature dishes most certainly will do the trick.
“The Rasta Pasta is really a big thing,” Nugent said with a flair of childlike excitement for his craft. “And the jerk chicken wrap, that’s a biggie!”
Made with seasonings imported from Jamaica, the aforementioned Rasta Pasta — a Nugent original — uses tricolored rotini pasta to pay homage to Rastafarian culture. Available with jerk chicken and/or shrimp, as well as tilapia, the pasta is garnished with a coconut cream sauce that may very well be College Park’s most delicious flavor. When I told the chef over the phone that I felt it was the key component to his dish, he responded so enthusiastically that it was nearly impossible to make out his reply, although it sounded sort of like an ecstatic “Dear God!”
The man is impossible not to like. He makes me feel like his best friend.
Nugent also offers oxtail, a delicacy popular in Jamaica. He realizes that many of his Caribbean customers may not have a go-to spot to enjoy their native cuisine and seeks to be that community staple. However, Nugent also feels his restaurant is more than just Jamaican home cooking.
“It’s an international cafe, because I don’t just do Jamaican food,” the chef said. “We go way beyond Jamaican food because I’ve traveled different places and learned different things.”
His influence comes from many years of working in various locations, from his hometown Jamaica to restaurants and hotels in Atlanta as well as a past job at the luxurious Willard Hotel in Washington. At the Willard Hotel, Nugent was introduced to French and German foods, culinary concepts he incorporates into his menu today.
Within the next five years, Nugent hopes to expand Unforgettable Flavors by adding two more locations. Currently, the chef is looking into possible sites in the Silver Spring and D.C. area.
While the restaurant remains in College Park, Nugent continues to make sure his customer service is up to the same caliber as his cuisine. He’s already offered me a full tour of the restaurant’s kitchen in order to prove to me that the spices and ingredients are indeed imported from Jamaica (I believe him, but I’ll still gladly take the tour). In a town full of chains and enough pizza places to keep any lactose-intolerant prospective homebuyer out of Prince George’s County entirely, Unforgettable Flavors and Nugent provide a refreshing, joy-filled culinary detour.