Upon ordering Jamaican Joe‘s signature jerk chicken sandwich—-er, “sanwidge,” as it’s described on the menu—-my server responds with the following question: “Do you want to fly over Jamaica? Or land in Kingston?”
He’s not talking about airline logistics. He’s talking about spice. In other words, am I going to go the mild American-tourist route, or take the indigenous path to hot times?
Frankly, I’d like to spend the day climbing the falls at Ocho Rios, or sampling the local underground agriculture—-preferably both—-but I have no idea what gustatory metaphor that would imply. Luckily, I’m not dining alone, so my friend and I order one of each and split ’em.
Now, I’m no Caribbean native (far from it) but I do come to the table with a basic understanding of what jerk chicken is supposed to taste like. My first time trying the stuff, I was on a mission trip, building a church in the mountainous Jamaican countryside. One day, a local villager brought us a big batch of her homemade jerk chicken and, after multiple afternoons of bagged lunches, it was about the best thing I’d ever tasted.
The kind at Jamaican Joe’s new Adams Morgan location (priced at $7.50) is pretty irie, too, but a lot saucier than the authentic dry-rubbed stuff I remember. The pulled chicken is smothered to almost McRib-like proportions in the spiced sauce, interspersed with slivers of plantains, topped with lettuce and tomato and a tad of mayo. Maybe the tastiest part of the whole thing, though, is the coco bread it’s served on, which kind of reminds me of a pillow-soft dinner roll.
As for the fly-over versus Kingston-landing equation, the difference is not immediately apparent, though my lips begin to detect a slight temperature uptick as I’m half-way through the capital city version. Our server, intuitively spotting our spice confusion, brings over an extra bowl of Scotch bonnet peppers to amp up the tropical degrees. That helps! Whew!
Gotta say I am pleasantly surprised at how much I like this sandwich—-particularly given the rather unappetizing signage out front, “Wanna Get Jerked?” Not to mention the t-shirt that the chef is wearing: “Jerk Off Fridays.”
For once, I am really happy it is Wednesday.
Photo by Chris Shott