The Jerk Grill brings back a rush of memories of honeymooning in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, drinking Red Stripe and ginger beer and feasting on jerk pork and jerk chicken, succulent meats grilled over pimento wood after marinating in a fiery mix of scotch bonnet chiles and aromatic spices.
Unfortunately, here you will only find jerk pork available once a week or so, for reasons that escape me. That said, jerk chicken (on the bone or boneless) is always available.
It is cooked over an open flame after being marinated in a vinegary marinade incorporating Habanero chiles (a close relative of the Scotch bonnet from Jamaica), mango juice and aromatic spices. You can order it a la carte or with two sides, choosing from such items as rice and “peas” (beans), sweet fried plantains and “festival” (a sweet fried bread). Both the bread and plantains are first rate and the rice and peas are topped with chopped red onions, which have been marinated in vinegar for their harshness. The Habanero marinade is very aromatic and imparts a stinging heat on the palate. I’d use it sparingly. Ask for a small cup of it to dip your chicken into should you want to amp up the heat level.
There is also a milder version of the marinade as well as a coconut caramel sauce that marries well with the festival bread.
If you’re not a chili aficionado, opt for the brown stew chicken, which is cooked on the stovetop in a brown sauce, which normally contains onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, butter and thyme with just a hint of hot pepper. The chicken didn’t have much liquid, given the fact that it’s supposed to be a stew, though it did contain potatoes and diced carrots.
Returning briefly to the unavailable jerk pork on the day we visited, jerk pork is grilled over an open flame with roasted red peppers, ground pimento, onions, garlic and Habanero chiles (or scotch bonnets when they can get them). Call ahead if you have your heart set on the jerk pork. The term “jerked” means cooked over an open flame over pimento wood, which adds a distinctive smokiness to the meat.
The “patties” were the highlight of our meal — soft pastries filled either with a chicken curry or a ground beef mixture infused with finely diced Habaneros or scotch bonnets. Both fillings were delicious, exploding with robust flavors on the palate. The flakiness of the pastry shells added to the allure. Two patties, rice and peas and sweet plantains make for a delicious and satisfying meal.
If it happens on a Sunday, you can try their oxtail stew, which is occasionally available on other days. Hopefully, and this is wishful thinking, in the not too distant future, there will be a greater variety of Jamaican specialties offered, such as curried goat, akee — a fruit that when cooked has the consistency of scrambled eggs — and salt fish; (akee is available canned for purchase) and mackerel rundown (salted or pickled mackerel served with a coconut sauce with roasted breadfruit).
Some Bob Marley or Toots and the Maytals music in the background would also be nice, while you’re sipping on a ginger beer!
David Cohen is the former cohost of the PBS show “Table for Two.”