Jerky Jerks jerk

I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a more discouraging looking jerk chicken joint than Rogers Park’s Jerky Jerk Caribbean Grille. It was empty and cold at midday, the music blared, and the sole employee on the premises appeared to be more interested in talking to himself than approaching the counter. I almost ghosted before he got around to it.

But at some point in its year-and-a-half lifespan it got the attention of the Food Network’s Jeff “Sandwich King” Mauro, who featured it on his show. There’s gotta be something sustaining it, right? And since I’d already invested a good minute and a half waiting to place my order—whole jerk chicken, cabbage, and rice and peas—I was committed. In the end it was a 30-minute commitment, but at least half of that time was spent in rapt thrall of the billowing clouds of smoke being vacuumed up into the hood at the very back of the darkened kitchen. Was my jerk smoking à la minute? After hacking the bird to bits and packing it up, my good man informed me he was burning hardwood lump charcoal. OK, it wasn’t pimento wood, but it was something, and in short order the car began to smell better than the inside of the restaurant.

The rub on the chicken is mild relative to pretty much any other jerk you might run across in town. That magical alchemy of allspice and scotch bonnet is way down in the mix, relative to the smoky intensity of the finish. That said, the jerk sauce itself is on the money, sharp and sweet. A whole chicken goes for a very reasonable $10.95, and though the dry-but-all-spicy rice and beans and the cabbage, cooked down with whole thyme sprigs, seems dear at $3.99 apiece, they are amply portioned.

What else? Just the basics: curried goat; chicken and oxtails; Mrs. Brown’s stew; jerk burritos, wraps, and sandwiches; and an accommodating “jerkatarian menu,” with curried potatoes and vegetable-jerk stir fry (jerkfry?). Jerky Jerk: contributing to Rogers Park’s jerk surplus since 2013.

Jerk Jerk Caribbean Grille