D's Island Grill JA started with a food truck. The brightly colored vehicle opened for business just as the food truck scene hit town. D's was always one of the more popular trucks and folks would stand in line for a long time to get some authentic Jamaican food.
A brick-and-mortar store had to follow. And it has, with bells on. Business was slow but steady on our visits. But after eating here, I know we'll return, and bring friends.
The place is small and decked out in Jamaican greens and yellows with several large posters depicting Mr. Bob Marley and miscellaneous bits of the island. Reggae music plays at a decent volume. It isn't fancy by any means, but who needs fancy when you've got friendly service and great food?
The menu is divided into a few categories, with about 10 proteins available as full dinners (the meat, red beans and rice, a cornbread fritter called a festival, and a lightly dressed cole slaw.) There's also a list of a la carte items. We ended up with three dinners and several of the other temptations.
We ordered at the counter, opting for the tilapia meal and the jerk chicken meal (both $9) on our first visit and the curry chicken meal ($9) at lunch. We also ordered sides of fried plantains ($3), coco bread ($3), beef patties ($3.50) and, because they were so damn good, more plantains. There are plenty of traditional island beverages (although no beer). Our choices were Ting soda ($2.50), Jamaican ginger beer ($3.50) and a watermelon splash ($3.50). There was also a Jerk burger ($6.99) that came with fries and a 20-ounce fountain drink.
The food arrived relatively quickly, and was piping hot and plentiful.
The dark meat jerk chicken was finger-licking good and that's no exaggeration. So many restaurants that serve jerked food tend to overcook and overspice whatever the protein might be. The result is usually a leathery mess so spicy you can't tell what you're eating. Here in the deft hands of an authentic Jamaican chef, the chicken was smoky and red from slow cooking over fire. The sauce had heat but it enhanced the chicken rather than overwhelmed it. It actually fell off the bone.
The same was true of the curry chicken, only here the color was yellow (from turmeric, perhaps?). Jamaican curry is not like Indian or Thai curry. As the name implies, there is a wild mix of spices. But with island curry the flavors are more subtle—no less complex but certainly mellower and almost sweet.
Dusted with a peppery mix of spices, the tilapia had been pan-fried to a moist tenderness with crispy edges. Onions and carrots that had been softly sautéed topped off the fish nicely. Scooped up with the sautéed onions and carrots, the fish worked. I would order it again in a heartbeat.
The sides were top-notch as well. You could see the roots of soul food in the red beans and rice. The rice was dark from the beans and was cooked perfectly. The slaw add a nice touch of sweetness and provided a balance from the spices. And the festival was crispy on the outside, nicely soft on the inside with just a hint of something sweet. I could've eaten a dozen of them.
The side of plantains was plainly presented: so hot, in temperature, that they almost took your breath away but divinely sweet without being cloying. They were the perfect complement to the spicier parts of the meal.
Coco bread is much like Hawaiian bread, soft and buttery. It was nice but pretty simple.
Wrapped in a soft, yellow crust, the beef patties were perhaps the spiciest dish we tried. The meat was finely ground and infused with more of the jerk spices. At first bite, it was almost overwhelming, but as we chomped them down, the heat became just right.
The only item that didn't impress was the burger, which had been seasoned with the jerk spices and was quite spicy but overcooked and dry. The fries still had some skin on them, a nice touch, and were crisp and hot. Two ketchups are served alongside; regular and jerk spicy. The second one was great.
We also ordered the two desserts available: sweet potato pudding with whipped cream ($6.50) and caramelized banana with vanilla ice cream ($6.50).
Both desserts were deceptively simple but tasty. The caramelized banana was merely a banana split in half and then bruleed to a sweet crunchiness. The ice cream was a rich vanilla and a nice counterpoint to the banana.
The pudding was rife with spices—I'm sure I could taste allspice—and had a dark, thick, slightly grainy texture. Slightly sweet and slightly not, this was way better than any sweet potato pie (or pumpkin pie) I've ever tasted. We took it home to try with a cup of coffee.
A return trip is in the works. I have my eye on the oxtail stew dinner.