I first sampled jerk chicken years ago at the Hollywood Farmers Market, lining up with several others for a taste of the Jamaican specialty. Minutes later, while hunched over a steam-breathing takeout box—unapologetically ravenous and sporting a sauce-stache—I experienced the simple satisfaction of devouring chicken, rice and beans in between swigs of bubbly ginger beer. I recently tried recreating that moment during a visit to Island Spice Jamaican Restaurant.
The aptly named eatery (2820 Market St. in Grant Hill) doesn't skimp on spices. Even the beef patty—a chubby, golden pastry that looks harmless—packs enough sinus-clearing heat to get you through two colds. Or maybe I'm just a spineless ninny when it comes to spicy foods, having grown up eating Iranian fare, which never ventures into heated territory. Still, I couldn't put down the patty. Stuffed with ground meat, the pastry shell flaunts a mild cheddar-cheese flavor. My grub buddy looked confused when I mentioned this, but I promise I detected cheesy undertones. Meanwhile, the ground beef stayed juicy throughout my focused munching but never once threatened the crust's flaky crunch.
On a sticky, sweaty Sunday, Island Spiceís shady outdoor patio offered an escape from the sun-blasted afternoon. It turns out a bottle of ginger beer also pairs well with triple-digit temperatures. The sweet-and-spicy drink's nose-burning tang requires some getting used to, but once you've moved past the initial sting, you'll discover it's a fine complement to your Island Spice meal.
A half-chicken, rice, veggies and fried plantains—all for $12—arrived at my table soon after I ordered. Island Spice's jerk chicken is marinated in a blend of pimiento, grated nutmeg and sugar before getting coated in the iconic sauce. Sadly, the owners aren't revealing their top-secret formula, but a few online recipes highlight the same ingredients: Scotch bonnet peppers, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar and garlic. It makes sense, then, that the end result is sweet, spicy and smoky all at once. The bone-in chicken pieces are tender and moist, but watch out for the bones, which can get weapon-like if you don't approach with caution.
Momentarily forget everything you've learned about high-fructose corn syrup and take a long, decadent gulp of the ginger beer. The sweet, effervescent drink combines beautifully with the jerk chicken's slow, warm flavors.
Although I visited Island Spice for its jerk chicken, the barbecued chicken impressed me more. The flavors are quick and sharp and tangy—there's nothing dull or soft-spoken about the dish. Plus, the sauce gets layered on thick, so you can use it to enliven the lackluster rice and veggies. Meanwhile, the Island Spice plantains are borderline addictive, thanks to their cakey texture and sweet-yet-tart flavor.
After our server broke the bad news—they'd run out of rum cake—the plantains doubled as dessert. Which reminds me: Plan an early visit to Island Spice, as many of the drool-worthy eats are long gone by the end of the day. The dumplings, also gone by 5 p.m., top my must-try list. Which means only one thing: I'll be back soon.