I love eating hot and spicy foods. But what’s even better is eating hot and spicy foods in the summer. In the thick of summer, there’s something to be said about eating foods that make you sweat like a 16 year old when someone asks to use their bedroom computer. Hot and sweltering weather paired with a frosty glass of something fizzy, inhaling a plate that hopefully was cooked by fire… the best. Word got to me that there was a new Caribbean place in the Plateau that I had to check out. So I hit up the newest and hottest jerk shack east of The Main, Local Jerk.
The menu is simple, jerk, roti, doubles and island smoothies. I started off with the croquettes. The lightly battered and fried fritters were served with a side of the house chili sauce. Each bite broke a crispy shell that led to a supple patty of warm rice and peas. The croquettes were not much more than that, other than an excuse to eat Local Jerk’s sweet “hot sauce”.
The chana doubles. Fluffy fried bread sandwiching a thick chick pea curry with potatoes drizzled with tamarind sauce. I prefer the curry to be looser and sloppier and the way Jah intended doubles to be eaten.
The chickpea roti was uneventful and was basically the same filling from the doubles wrapped up into a delightful chewy roti. The vegetarian jackfruit roti, however, was great. Large chunks of savoury jackfruit stewed with potatoes and yellow curry. It was hearty and substantial and fooled vegetarians and meat-eaters – myself included – to question if there was actual meat inside the roti (there wasn’t).
The goat roti was robust in flavour, but dry. That magic hot sauce helped a bit.
The vegetarian jerk seitan was really good. If you don’t know what seitan is, it’s straight up, 110%, Heisenberg blue ice, wheat gluten. The exact thing that we’re currently being trained to fear and be intolerant of. Large strips of marinaded seitan ‘pon di rice and peas, with a slice of white bread and a side of coleslaw. I’m accustomed to eating seitan (it’s used in a lot of Asian dishes) and the texture may take some getting used to. A cross between firm tofu and squeaky poutine cheese curds, you’ve got seitan. And yes, it’s pronounced like THAT, like the Archfiend Price of Darkness.
The quintessential Jamaican dish, jerk chicken. It’s dry-rubbed marinaded chicken, fragrant in herbs and spices like cinnamon, cloves, scotch bonnet peppers, nutmeg and thyme. I wanted to love Local Jerk’s jerk chicken it, I really did. But like Catelyn Stark’s reluctant acceptance and distain for a bastard son not of her own, I couldn’t. The flavour was tepid and heat level was weak. I felt like something was missing because it was cooked in a rotisserie. The jerk chicken I’ve always had was cooked over a fiery pit, kissed with flames and bathed in billowing plumes of smoke. It’s that element of smoke that accentuates and activates all the flavours in jerk seasoning.
Don’t get me wrong, the chicken at Local Jerk was cooked to perfection. The chicken thigh was incredibly juicy and tender. Amazing. A great cook on the meat is only half the equation to jerk. The lack of inherent heat from the rub bummed me out. I was all for trying a completely different preparation of jerk chicken. Had the spices been there, it would have been a clear knock out of the park in this versions of jerk chicken. Jerk seasoning needs to be bold and in your face. It needs to be spicy enough that you start regretting all the bad things you’ve done in your life, but not spicy enough that you’d ever tell anyone what you did. It needs it to make you sweat like a hokey commercialized pop-reggae chune from the 90s.
I was kind of excited to try out rotisserie jerk chicken – I’ve never had it before. It didn’t hit the spot like jerk chicken normally does. Does this take away from Local Jerk? Not at all. The place is happening and fun, the food is humble and generous. I hope to return for jerkier jerk sometime in the near future.
8 Duluth East.