When George H. Whitehead Jr. sold his first eatery to pursue a career in music management, he didn’t realize how much people would miss his food. Between trips to Europe and Africa (he toured with the reggae artists he represented), he returned to Boston to cook for friends. “They would say, ‘Man, you need to come back, we miss your food.’ ”
Now Whitehead is back in the kitchen as chef-owner of Jerk Jamaican Fine Dining and Take-Out Restaurant in Dorchester, just off Coppens Square, the original location of another Jamaican spot called Irie.
The New York native spent much of his childhood in Jamaica, where his parents are from. After a stint in the US Navy, he opened Island Style Jamaican Restaurant in Hyde Park in 2001, which he later relocated to Dorchester. “I always had a passion for the kitchen,” he says. His grandmother, one of his early culinary influences, encouraged him to develop his own signature version of jerk, a style of cooking and seasoning synonymous with the island nation. At his new place, open since May, he is doing exactly that.
Jerk chicken, made here by Whitehead and assistant chef, Sam Jones, begins with a proprietary spice blend; the poultry is cooked in a wood-chip-infused hot smoker. The burnished bird (cleavered into substantial chunks) is masterfully prepared. Pieces of white and dark meat are deeply savory, a little sweet, and sport the spicy thrum of Scotch bonnet peppers. “Just a pinch of heat,” Whitehead says, coy about his seasoning ingredients.
The menu includes sandwiches ($5 to $7) layered with chicken, steak, pork, and a burger, all served on cocoa bread. Despite its name, there’s no chocolate in these fluffy white buns. Platters are the mainstay here, available in regular and large, featuring an entree and two sides. Prices vary according to whether you dine in or take out. If you eat in, dishes are $3 or $4 more per regular-size order, and you get a salad of romaine, tomatoes, and carrots. A regular-size takeout order of jerk chicken is $9, the dine-in version is $12, and no dish on the menu exceeds $17.
Curried goat ($10.50 to $14.50), bone-in chunks of meat bathed in mild yellow curry, are tender and full of flavor. Slow-braised oxtail ($10.50 to $14.50) arrives in a delectable mahogany-hued gravy tinged with allspice.
Saucy dishes lend themselves to a side of rice and peas. Red kidney beans are often part of the mix, but pigeon peas — gandules in Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean — make this dish sing. Legumes and rice grains are cooked with coconut cream for added richness. Other well-made sides include collard greens (a nod to the American South), creamy mac and cheese, and ripe fried plantains.
For a place that encourages orders to go, it seems odd that entrees and sides are not packaged separately. When a main dish and sides are heaped into one container, the lid barely fits, making for awkward transport.
While you’re waiting for your take-away order, sit at the counter, chat with the friendly staff behind the register, and sip a drink called sorrel ($3.50), a sweet ruby-hued punch made from hibiscus-like flowers and ginger, or choose from a selection of soups made daily ($5 to $6).
The atmosphere is relaxed inside. A regular asks a newcomer if she has visited Jamaica, and soon the conversation feels like old friends chatting.
Banter like this must be music to the chef’s ears.
JERK JAMAICAN FINE DINING AND TAKE-OUT RESTAURANT
310 Bowdoin St., Dorchester,
617-506-7090, www.jerkdining.com. All major cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Soups, salads, sandwiches $5-$10. Platters with two sides $9-$17. Beverages $1-$4.
Hours Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
What to order jerk chicken, oxtail, curried goat, collard greens, rice and peas, fried plantains, sorrel punch.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.