In Review: Jerk N Jive Solidifies as Jamaican Foodie Destination with Frederick’s Second Location | 72 hours
When the people of the state of Maryland ask where to find good Jamaican food, I bet they are seldom asked to go see Frederick. Who would think of coming so far north, to a landlocked area on the border of West Virginia and Pennsylvania to find the cuisine of the famous Caribbean island?
But oddly enough, it’s here in the county and has been for quite some time – and now it’s spread.
Jerk N Jive Caribbean Cuisine, which started as a small East Street take-out outlet in 2017, has now opened a second location off South Jefferson Street and has grown into a full-service restaurant.
Dining there last week was more than pleasant. The fun tropical interior with painted palm green walls and reggae streaming through the overhead stereo was a welcome distraction from the freezing cold outside.
The new location, which has the slightly different name of Jerk N Jive Bar & Kitchen, is a large space with plenty of seating options, a long bar and a private room that large groups can hire.
Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping into an all-inclusive resort and the menu and drink offerings only deepen that feeling.
I just ordered the traditional Jamaican entrees when I visited because, let’s be honest, it’s hard to find that kind of food anywhere else nearby.
Cocktail pancakes are a must for an aperitif. You may know them as “Jamaican pancakes” – little golden turnovers stuffed with ground meat and spices. I tried the beef but Jerk N Jive also has chicken and veggie toppings.
The patties are perfectly flaky and flavorful and are not a bulky appetizer that will fill you up before your main course. They’re the perfect little bite to get you started.
For a main course, goat curry or jerk chicken are two solid choices. The curry goat cheese is incredibly flavorful and aromatic with a strong and deep curry powder profile. The meat is ridiculously tender and falls straight off the bone and mixes perfectly with plain white rice or rice and peas, both of which are an option for diners.
For those unfamiliar with Jamaican cuisine, rice and peas are an island staple. Think of it as the Jamaican equivalent of the Spanish-style rice and beans that are served as regular side dishes. It is often cooked with coconut milk, garlic, and thyme, and “peas” are often red or black beans, like kidney beans. It’s mushy and hot in all good ways and goes with everything.
Jerk Chicken is a nice quarter to half serving of oven-roasted chicken in beautiful jerk spices that give off flavors of cinnamon, cloves and allspice. I was a bit disappointed to find that the jerk season was not as spicy as I have tried in the past and did not give off a deep pepper flavor, but it was still delicious and a great showcase for Jamaican flavors.
If you want something that really gives off an island vibe, go for the coconut shrimp. I’m not the biggest coconut person, but I’ve found myself enjoying this dish thoroughly. The plump shrimp are cooked in a savory blend of spices, then layered in a thick, silky coconut cream sauce that is served with rice and topped with grated coconut and green onions. It had that perfect sweet coconut flavor and the scallions gave it a touch of shine and acidity.
Each appetizer is also served with a choice of two sides with rice – that’s so much food! All sides are worth it, but some of my favorites were the fried plantains, sautéed spinach, and macaroni and cheese.
Jerk N Jive’s new location also serves a fun weekend brunch. There’s a refreshing mango mimosa on the brunch drink menu as well as traditional fare with a spin like jerk salmon and eggs, and a breakfast sandwich served on coconut bread – a staple carb Caribbean made from coconut milk which is starchy and slightly sweet.
But if there’s one dish on the brunch menu that you absolutely must try, it’s ackee and salt fish. Often referred to as Jamaica’s national dish, this dish is for anyone willing to ditch traditional eggs and waffles for breakfast and try something a little different. Ackee is a fruit native to West Africa but was introduced to the Caribbean in the 1700s and is now the national fruit of Jamaica. There are inedible portions of the fruit that can be fatally eaten if eaten, but for this dish, the sour parts are chopped and sautéed with salt and brackish pollock, onions and peppers. It truly is one of the best things I have ever had and I will definitely come back to Jerk N Jive often to get my fix of this wonderful breakfast.
For something sweet after lunch or dinner, or even brunch, who am I to judge? – go for the Caribbean rum cake. Traditional Jamaican dessert, the texture and density range between a pound cake and a Victoria sponge cake. It’s light and bouncy and has certainly been steeped in a fair amount of rum. There is a mild rum frosting on the side, and the cake can be served “à la mode” if desired.
There are also a ton of tropical drinks to try at Jerk N Jive and the bartenders at the new restaurant are chatty and welcoming. The mojito Marley and the jive juice were two of my favorites and they even have mixed frozen drinks if you really want to pretend you’re on a white sand Jamaican beach.
For those longtime Jerk N Jive fans who haven’t tried the new location yet, I implore you to do so. Sure it’s a bit more upscale and the vibe is different but the food is just as good if not better. In this case, the expansion has embraced the family business well and I hope to see them continue to be successful.
And more than anything, I hope they become a well-known place for Jamaican cuisine throughout the state.
Katryna Perera is a food journalist and critic for the Frederick News-Post. Passionate about cooking for a long time, she has taken cooking classes at home and abroad and constantly follows culinary trends and restaurant openings. She also briefly studied food reporting while attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill; on Instagram: @kjp_eats.