Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club. Because No News is Bad News.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

At UJerk, it’s more American than Jamaican

Posted By on Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 2:24 PM

click to enlarge DOUG TRATTNER / SCENE
  • Doug Trattner / Scene

It slaps you like a double-overhead wave. No, not the bang of the jerk spice, but rather the electric-orange awning splashed with the mischievous name UJerk. That flag, boldly planted in the heart of downtown, pinpoints the home of Cleveland’s newest Caribbean eatery. Like others popping up, this one streamlines the traditional Jamaican restaurant experience into an efficient fast-casual operation. But unlike many of its brothers and sisters, UJerk takes a more conservative approach to the food.

Owners Jon Manning, Jenna Murphy and Jeremiah Perkins describe UJerk as a Jamaican-themed restaurant infused with American-style dining. I’d be inclined to flip that characterization to state that UJerk is an American-style restaurant imbued with a taste of Jamaica. If your sights (and taste buds) are set on bagging one of those ubiquitous Styrofoam containers struggling to bear the weight of slow-braised curry goat or oxtails, you’ll need to recalibrate those receptors.



UJerk, which opened in mid-July, delivers its jerk-flavored fare in the form of salads, sliders, sandwiches, wraps and plates. That “secret recipe” jerk seasoning finds its way onto boneless white meat chicken, boneless dark meat chicken, bone-in dark meat chicken and, you read it here first, falafel. Other “protein” options include tuna salad and shrimp and crab salad.

In typical plug-and-play style, diners select their preferred meat, delivery vehicle and side. One of the most popular menu items – and for good reason – is the Snack Pack ($10), a trio of sliders that allows diners to mix and match their fillings. Items like boneless jerk chicken, tuna salad and vegan falafel land on spongy, eggy slider buns with lettuce and tomato or cucumber slices. That falafel proved to be a surprise hit owing to its airy, herby interior and crisp exterior, which is finished with sweet chili glaze. The “spicy tuna salad” is not too far removed from deli-style, save for a few errant flakes of red pepper.

As for the main attractions, the jerk-spiced items do have a complex, captivating flavor profile, but they lack the trademark punch of scotch bonnet peppers. That, of course, is by design as the owners are seeking to attract a broader clientele than just frequent island hoppers. The dish that most closely resembles the real deal steel-drum grilled classic is the jerk chicken plate ($8/$10), a mess of skin-on, bone-in dark meat that possesses the characteristic earthy, savory appeal. This chicken also lacks the sweet chili glaze that seems to land on many of the other menu choices. A few dashes of the “Hot Jamaican” sauce even manages to approximate near-faithful heat levels.

Other sauces include a dark, thick and smoky-sweet BBQ, a funky-with-a-kick Irie, a peaty, woodsy Reggae Root and the Sweet Chili.

A cool, crisp and summery baby shrimp and imitation crab salad gets a textural boost from thin-sliced onions, carrots and bell peppers. It all gets bundled up in a large flour tortilla and sliced on the bias. Falafel, tuna salad and chopped boneless jerk chicken also can be ordered as a wrap. Every item except the aforementioned chicken plate costs $10 and includes a side. Again, UJerk does things differently, sidestepping the customary steamed cabbage, rice and peas or plantains for a simple salad, lightly breaded french fries or coleslaw.

On weekends, UJerk trots out the Rasta Pasta ($14), an Alfredo-esque pasta topped with jerk chicken.

While delivery service is not yet an option, diners can call ahead to order and pay and request curbside pickup. For those who do amble into the downtown shop, he or she likely will be greeted with the equivalent of a warm, Caribbean hug. These staffers appear to take island hospitality seriously, bellowing hearty hellos and heartfelt thanks. The shop is colorful, festive and organized.  “Influencers” literally are encouraged to snap a selfie in front of the faux living wall of greenery on their way out.

The goal, says partner Perkins, is to offer a side dish of escapism along with that tasty jerk chicken.

“When you come in here, you’re going to feel like you’re on a beach, that you’re away for a little bit,” he says.

If plans play out as expected, don’t be surprised to spot future UJerk shops in Columbus and elsewhere.

UJerk Caribbean Eatery
850 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
216-675-0022
ujerknation.com

***
Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Cleveland Scene works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Cleveland and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Cleveland's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 9, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

© 2020 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 241-7550
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation