jerk soul offers several versions of grilled jerk chicken photo by david kovaluk

Review: Jerk Soul in Hyde Park

Jerk Soul
is a bastion of insanely good Caribbean comfort food prepared from time-tested family recipes. Located in a renovated brownstone in the north side Hyde Park neighborhood, this modest mom-and-pop operation consists of little more than a takeout window, a chalkboard menu and a few cushions laid out on window benches where people can wait for food. It’s hard to go wrong on the simple menu of classic, fusion and meatless options.

Jerk Chicken
If this is your first Jerk Soul pilgrimage, you absolutely must order the jerk chicken, either as wings or as the more substantial half-chicken entree. The juicy meat is charcoal-grilled and swallowed in a haze of pimento wood smoke. Hot off the grill, it tears off the bone. 

But the best part is the crusty outer layer of herbs and spices fortifying the smoky bird. Its dry rub and marinade are packed with black pepper, onion and garlic powders, cinnamon, paprika, thyme, ginger, allspice and a handful of secret ingredients that result in a distinctly wonderful mixture of raw heat and cinnamon-tinged sweetness.

jerk chicken tacos and fries // photo by david kovaluk

Jerk Chicken Tacos
A favorite from the fusion portion of the menu, the trio is more like fajitas than tacos, which is definitely not a complaint. Smoky and succulent bits of thigh meat are tucked into corn tortillas and topped with grilled sweet peppers, house-made corn salsa and a sprinkling of cheddar and mozzarella. A little dollop of sour cream finishes off the crispy, satisfying tacos, served with thick-cut and perfectly crispy french fries.

Mac and Cheese
This is the perfect companion to the jerk chicken – an indulgent and perfectly satisfying version made with a thick roux and five different cheeses. The creamy sauce and large noodles hide beneath a crusty layer of cheese speckled with oregano, parsley and paprika.

oxtail with rice and peas // photo by david kovaluk

Jerk Soul’s classic, slow-cooked oxtail is much like a plate of super-rich short ribs, with fall-apart tender meat that easily slides off the bone. After breaking down for two hours in a pressure cooker, the delicate meat is bathed in a thick tomato sauce that transforms into a dense gravy with strong hits of allspice, cumin and cinnamon. The savory oxtail pairs well with the slightly sweet and sour side of braised cabbage, boiled down to succulent softness with vinegar, soy sauce and smoked turkey meat.

chicken curry with corn // photo by david kovaluk

Chicken Curry
This warm, agreeable curry is spicy-sweet. Juicy thigh meat is slow-simmered in coconut milk broth with onions, tomatoes, a variety of fresh peppers and russet potatoes.

Rice and Peas
Pair the curry with this showstopper side that red beans-and-rice fans will dig into with joy. The Caribbean classic pairs kidney beans (not green peas) with basmati rice, which is cooked in a savory-sweet mixture of coconut milk, thyme and scotch bonnet peppers.

The Downside
Traditional, slow cooking methods mean orders can take awhile to materialize. Call ahead or order through Grubhub for pickup or delivery.   

Matt Berkley is a longtime contributor and critic for Sauce Magazine.