Jamrock’s menu states its mission: “Serving our culture in every bite.” The culture is Jamaican, and the bites include jerk chicken, oxtails, and the national dish, akee & saltfish.
The culture you are served goes beyond food. Background music in the dining room is reggae; the staff are laid-back hospitable in a way that may not be unique to Jamaica, but is typical of it. The building itself (previously home to Sawasdee, which became Thai Jasmine Rice) is located off the beaten path on the Old Augusta Highway. Bright colors that evoke the national flag make it easy to spot. Inside, tables are set social-distance correctly apart, although much business is take-out.
Familiar Jamaican dishes are wonderful. Jerk chicken is complex and intriguingly spiced; plantains are sweet and just-right chewy; oxtails are fatty-rich, requiring some work to get the meat, but so worth the reward of luxurious flavor.
Akee and saltfish has character unlike anything else. That’s mainly due to akee, a peculiar fruit that is an island favorite. It comes as little yellow pods that resemble slightly overcooked pasta shells and have a texture something like avocado and a taste like … well, like nothing I’ve ever tasted. Although a fruit, they verge on savory more than sweet; they are more vegetable-like, similar to very tender hearts of palm. These delicacies are woven with shreds of salted cod to become a whirl of flavor that truly is exciting.
Another thrilling specialty on Jamrock Caribana’s menu is billed as Barbifry chicken. As its portmanteau name hints, it is chicken that is fried, then coated with spicy barbecue sauce and baked until the sauce’s flavor seeps deep into the meat. In a distant way, it reminds me of the unique fried-then-BBQ-sauced chicken served at the legendary Keaton’s in North Carolina.
Dessert is interesting, too. Rum cake is intoxicating, available sauced with chocolate and/or caramel. The house specialty is called a coneado. It’s a waffle-cone bowl that appears to hold simply a pile of ice cream, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and sauce of choice, but in fact hides a thick layer of buttery pound cake at the bottom. What a joy to excavate!