Jamaican Style Jerk: Little short of perfect 

click to enlarge A container full of goodness from Jamaican Style Jerk. - MARK LEE
  • A container full of goodness from Jamaican Style Jerk.
  • Mark Lee

Before you order from this outstanding little literal hole in the wall, make sure you either have a good appetite or a few friends to help you out. Situated next to a liquor store on the east side of Keystone Avenue, Jamaican Style Jerk serves a short menu of deliciously authentic island dishes in generous portions. There's only one table outside, so unless you're either a fan of traffic fumes, or have no other choice but to eat in the parking lot, I suggest grabbing your to-go bag and either heading home or to the nearest park. This is food best enjoyed al fresco, preferably under a shade tree with a couple of cold ones.

Unlike, for instance, Tex-Mex, with its sometimes blistering displays of raw pepper power, Caribbean cuisine is deep in flavor and rich in spice, but light on the heat. It instead reminds me more of the best of Indian food, with its layers of complexity built upon subtle yet potent blends of dark spices. Jamaican Style Jerk specializes in barbecue, offering exceptional pork ribs cooked low and slow to a dark, almost caramelized ochre, not quite falling off the bone, but retaining a degree of firmness, allowing you to savor the richness. Served with a tangy house sauce, a generous handful of these beauties is a steal at $7.50.

In a similar vein, half a slow-cooked jerk chicken for $10 is little short of perfect, and comes, as do the ribs, with a heaping side of peas (beans, to be precise) and rice, as well as a few generous slices of grilled plantain by way of a sweet counterpart to the dish's otherwise predominantly savory character. One of each of these two dishes would provide ample food for three or four for a casual weekday dinner.

And then there are the patties. Similar in form to the classic Cornish Pasty, from which I'm certain their name is derived, these spicy, savory treats consist of a generously-proportioned pastry case (flavored with turmeric, perhaps?) stuffed with either a mixture of ground beef or chicken and finely chopped vegetables. Packing a little bit of tingling heat, patties are conveniently portable, so can be easily eaten on the fly. At $2.25 apiece, and weighing in at around four ounces, these also represent a real bargain.

On a recent visit, I also picked up a roasted tilapia, head, skin, bones and all, with the aforementioned sides, for $10. Simply done and subtly spiced, this highly forgiving fish was cooked to the point where the flesh tore apart rather than sliced, allowing one to pull off generous chunks with the fingers. Enhanced with a squirt of lime and a splash of hot sauce, this hearty dish will transport you back to the islands.

Jamaican Style Jerk also offers a variety of lunch specials until 2 p.m., and a goat curry on Wednesdays. If you're planning to eat later in the day, it's a good idea to call ahead to find out what they have left, as ribs in particular tend to sell out.

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