Jerkin Chicken: Tasty Jamaican Cuisine in Jersey City

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The island of Jamaica is famous for its beautiful beaches, reggae music, unique dialect, Blue Mountain coffee, exotic fruits, cheerful people, and distinctive tasting jerk chicken. Fortunately, for the people of Hoboken and Jersey City, who travel all the way to the island is not necessary to taste this spicy delicacy. Come in, Jerkin Chicken. What started as a family decision with a simple concept in mind to provide authentic Jamaican food to people has grown into a major success and a staple for Jamaican cuisine. Owner Trevor McKenzie has taken back his family legacy on a mission to honor it and take it to the next level so that he can pass something special on to his children through his JC Restaurant {located at 234 West Side Avenue}. Here’s what’s on the menu at this delicious place.

The roots of the Jerkin Chicken family

“I moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn from Jamaica when I was 11. I graduated from Syracuse University with a BS in Advertising and pursued jobs in American companies. I opened a bridal and tuxedo store in Brooklyn for a while. I later moved to Jersey City in 1994.

Jerk Chicken is owned by the McKenzie family, and they have been serving their delicious food in the metro area for over 20 years. “There weren’t a lot of jobs and opportunities in the Jamaican countryside, so my family always sold food to support themselves. That’s what most Jamaicans in the country do, ”Trevor explained. Because of this upbringing, Trevor and his siblings have always known how to support themselves and, moreover, how to think like entrepreneurs.

Today the owner of Jerkin Chicken is Trevor, but it was his older sister Deloris “Keysha” who opened the family’s first restaurant in Crown Heights Brooklyn in 1989, under the name “McKenzie’s”. “Most Jamaicans have settled in Crown Heights and Flat Bush. There is a strong Jamaican community there, ”Trevor said Hoboken girl.

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Deloris, however, was the first in the family to bring his knowledge of Jamaican cuisine and secret recipes to the United States. Trevor’s brother expanded Deloris’ restaurant to the second location in Brooklyn, but both locations eventually closed in 2014. In 2012, Trevor renamed the restaurant and, with a mission to honor his sister’s legacy, has opened a spin-off – Jerkin Chicken at 234 West Side Avenue in Jersey City. “I always knew I would run my own business, I just didn’t think I would work this hard at this point in my life,” he laughs.

“Deloris made me want to get into this profession. She was one of my favorite people around the world. I worked in the original restaurant with her, then with my brother when he opened the second location, ”explained Trevor with Hoboken girl. “Deloris passed away in 2016 and I really wanted to honor her memory and make her dream come true. The first food truck I bought has a picture of her painted on it. I will always keep it there. I want to make her proud and bring the vision I discussed with her to life.

Trevor has deep roots in Brooklyn. It was the first place he called home after leaving his home country, where he grew up, where he went to school and where he became a businessman. However, it was in Jersey City that he chose to raise his family. “I bought a house in Society Hill and took new roots. My wife Penny and I raised five children here. Jersey City is the only home they’ve ever known. They were born and raised here, ”he said.

The origins of food

{Photo credit: @jerkinchicken}

“Jerking involves adding spices and grilling meat, poultry and even vegetables. These spices were brought to the island by our African ancestors. The resulting food gives a spicy-sweet flavor and a tender texture, ”explains Trevor. “People often ask what jerk chicken is and assume it is when you literally sauté the chicken, and I explain it’s a spicy seasoning.”

Like most successful family businesses, the fame is due to secret family recipes. “The basis of the jerk seasoning recipe has passed down my family, but I’m a perfectionist and gave it a twist until I created my own unique formula.”

“Some people cook jerk chicken at different spice levels, but we cook ours at a light to medium spice level because a lot of people can’t handle extremely spicy foods.” Don’t worry, lovers of spicy food, this is where the sauces come in. There are several homemade sauces available to complement the savory dishes to add an extra kick.

The menu

{Photo credit: @jerkinchicken}

If you’re looking for delicious food with jerk seasoning, you’ve come to the right place. Protein options include jerk chicken, jerk pork, jerk salmon, jerk shrimp, oxtail, and goat cheese curry. Customers can choose any meat and create a dinner combo with the option of rice, salad and maduros. Tacos, burritos, wraps and salads topped with meat are also options.

The fun part is choosing the type of chicken you want. Boneless jerk chicken is a hit because it’s easier to eat. There are also jerk chicken wings, chicken curry, and chicken stew available on the menu. “The salmon salad is a new addition to the menu, and it’s a hit in Hoboken, as well as the tacos. We also have red snapper available for purchase at the Brick and Mortar location, ”Trevor Explain.

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The jerk chicken might be the star of the show, but the homemade tropical juices will delight you too. Trevor’s 78-year-old mother-in-law does it every day at the brick and mortar site. Flavors include limeade, sorrel and ginger beer. “I don’t know how she has all this energy, because I’m ready to fall asleep after a shift on the truck.” Trevor plans to update the logo on the juice bottles and officially launch them nationwide. “You can’t find a national brand for island drinks like these.”

The Food Truck = Catering

In a world where everything is in place and focused on convenience, Trevor knew he had to pivot the approach to his business. “The Jerk Shacks are thriving by the roadside in Jamaica as a local fast food industry, and I knew that was exactly what I needed to do here.”

In addition to the physical store, Jerk Chicken has three food trucks. Trucks can be found in downtown Jersey City near Exchange Place or in Hoboken on River Street or Sinatra Drive.

For those who need original and unique dishes that your guests will love {when we can throw parties again}, don’t worry. The restaurant provides its food trucks for catering, as well as trays. The truck has been hired to host corporate parties, weddings, picnics, fundraisers, special events and more. “Some of the biggest companies we’ve worked with are Domino Sugar, Grace Foods, and Delta Airlines,” Trevor explained.

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That’s not all. If you are interested in something that is not on the menu, Trevor has no problem working with you to create a menu that is right for you. “Just because we specialize in jerk food doesn’t mean we can’t make burgers, pasta, whatever the customer needs. “

Trevor creates an authentic Jamaican vibe and experience for guests who visit both the brick and mortar location and the food trucks playing reggae music, offering island drinks and, of course, the food – think of it as a vacation without the trip.

The future of Jerkin chicken

Trevor has no plans to stop at one physical location and three food trucks. “I know I have an amazing and one of a kind product that people will love if they could just try it. This is why I have already met lawyers to further develop the restaurant and expand internationally, ”explains Trevor.

It’s only a matter of time before the world discovers the gem that is Jerkin Chicken, but for now we’re happy to keep this amazing food to ourselves!

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Written by: Victoria Marie Moyeno

Victoria is Associate Editor of HG and Social Media Coordinator for the Hoboken Historical Museum + Fire Department Museum. She is from fourth generation Hoboken, BNR in Mile Square and Jersey City. By playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two towns hold a special place in her heart. When not a stylist or a Symposia bookstore volunteer, she explores all that the concrete jungle has to offer. You can see her at art shows, local festivities, travel, diving into a new book, saving, or crafting.



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