Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Cool Jerk

The beat tradition gets a Caribbean twist in Jackson Ward.


The restaurant has a finger-snapping, conga-thumping Jack Kerouac feel, especially on Tuesday nights when the mic’s open for writers and freestylers alike, complete with live soul music. The mood inside is warm with red walls, original paintings, a dozen dining tables with cushioned chairs and a cozy, candle-lit lounge.

The food is as colorful as the performers and décor. Tropical jerk and curry spices abound with a touch of American soul food in dishes such as the baked chicken ($8.99) and homemade apple pie ($2.50). Soup specials include an utterly outstanding navy bean ($3). No fatback in this recipe, only savory chicken broth with just a hint of spice and whole bay leaves. It’s a transcendental experience.

There’s also a surplus of seafood options including snow crab legs (market price) and spiced blue crabs ($26 a dozen) as well as a substantial seafood platter blending shrimp, crab, fish and a salmon cake for $25.99. All entrees are served with your choice of two sides and a roll.

Tropical jerk chicken ($6.99) is a real bargain and blends chunks of grilled chicken breast in a sweet Jamaican jerk sauce (a nice alternative to the standard overly spicy, dry rubbed version). Salmon cakes ($6.99) are two perfectly seared cakes made from fresh salmon with chunks of green pepper accompanied by a mound of macaroni and cheese oozing with cheddar and the crispy, brown crust we all know and love.

The mango grilled shrimp ($12.50) was described as jumbo shrimp, yet arrived as overcooked medium shrimp – shrunken, curled and chewy. The grilled shrimp appetizer ($6.25) was the same. But the crisp, crunchy onion rings with purple cabbage ($2.99) made up for the misfit shrimp. For dessert, try the lemon cake ($2.50). It’s a winner with an uber-moist center and a more than generous slice.

For lunch, the World Famous Nu-Life Sandwich ($4.99) with its array of veggies, Swiss cheese and choice of bread seemed a good option. However, when it appeared minus cheese and only a smattering of vegetables, it simply became an OK sandwich made of bread and special sauce. A much better bet is the lentil soup with its spicy broth and tender lentils.

Service is more than friendly with both patrons and staff in an unhurried mode. It’s a great place to bust out that journal and jot down a few bits of prose just for kicks. The atmosphere begs creativity, and with a little tightening in the kitchen, great food, art and soul can come together to create their own improvisational moment. S

Tropical Soul Sea and Soulfood Café ($)
314 N. Second St.
Lunch and dinner: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Saturday noon - 2 a.m.
Live music Thursday through Saturdays, Verses open mic and poetry night Tuesdays.
Call for special performances and events.

Kendra Bailey Morris teaches cooking classes for Sur La Table Cooking School and works as a freelance chef. She visits each restaurant twice and each visit is unannounced and paid for by Style.

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