Food Truck: Island Spice Grill
Sighting: 47th and Park
If you’ve noticed, I’m very stingy at doling out five-star reviews on this site. That’s because to get to five stars, a food truck has to absolutely knock my socks off to the point where I don’t just say “I wouldn’t mind going back there some day”, I’m saying “I absolutely MUST go back there”. To get to that rarified air, a food truck has to prove to me that they’re friendly, efficient, and above all have incredible food.
Today in the office, there seemed to be free food everywhere at meetings I wasn’t invited to. I was at a meeting down on the fifth floor where they were setting up boxes and boxes of cheap pizza. When I walked up to the eighth floor I saw a spread of deli sandwiches, and I thought for once I’d beaten the vultures, but no, they were just setting up.
And so I resigned myself to walking outside and–shudders–paying for my lunch. When I got to my usual haunts at 47th and Park I wasn’t too impressed. Wasn’t quite in the mood for Bobjo today. While I enjoyed the Thai food truck that didn’t seem all that special to me either.
And then at the end of the street I saw a black Cadillac Escalade parked.
Hitched to the back of it was a grass-topped island umbrella and underneath it a giant oil drum grill.
I was fortunate enough to have just been walking by as they opened at a little past noon, so there were about four people ahead of me. A man set up the placard that showed the name of this unorthodox food truck: Island Spice Grill.
There were three guys working the truck, one going up and down taking order and money (cash only), one assembling lunch boxes that were pre-filled with mixed greens, and one doing the actual grilling of the meat. All of them were pleasant and polite and looked like they loved what they were doing, which got the crowd (which was growing behind me) in a good mood, helped along by the Bob Marley music playing loudly from a speaker. Passers-by would stop and click photos.
The menu is quite simple. It’s $12 for one meat, $15 for two meats, and $20 for three meats. You can choose jerk chicken, jerk pork, or jerk brisket.
You can see the heaps of meat and corn grilling right in front of you, and practically every person on the line around me changed their order as they witnessed the magic going on in front of them. I’d say 80% of the folks decided to add brisket to their order after seeing the first guy on the line getting slices of this beautiful specimen
As for me, I ordered the jerk chicken, but then realized that I wanted the pork too, so I gave him another $3. Then I realized I wanted the corn too, so I handed over another $3. In retrospect, I should totally have forked over the additional $5 for the brisket.
By the time I got to the front, about a 10 minute wait but that was mainly because they were still setting up, there was already at least a half-hour line behind me. They collect a color-coded ticket from you and then put your order together right in front of you, chopping and slicing the meat with a giant cleaver or machete…
…and loading it into the styrofoam container.
I had the additional pleasure of seeing my stalk of corn peeled to reveal the most beautiful orangey-yellow color I’d ever seen, grilled to perfection, and then chopped in two.
The second fellow will ask you if you want spicy or mild (sweet) sauce and then squeeze a healthy dollop all over your food.
I looked back and noticed that between the smells, the sights of the smoke, the festive Caribbean music, the line had grown. I walked past the burgeoning line back to my office, I felt I’d won the lottery or something.
I rushed back to the office. As I walked to my desk I could see the conference room of people who had to sit through their hour-long PowerPoint presentation before they could collect their deli sandwiches, while I triumphantly went to my desk and opened up my container to find this.
The smell wafted throughout my office. All of a sudden I wasn’t in a New York office building, but on the sunny beaches of Jamaica without a care in the world except how I was going to wolf down all this protein along with the symbolic bed of lettuce.
I tried the pork first. I thought the chicken would be the star of the show, but oh, how the pork outstaged everything else. I shoved a big chunk of it in my mouth and it was one of the most juicy, succulent things I’ve eaten in a long, long time, brimming with a combination of the pork flavor and the wonderful char-broiled flavor. I’ve had pork at Roast Kitchen (at about the same price), but the Island Spice Truck makes them look like a little leaguer going against a Major League ballplayer.
The chicken, not surprisingly, was excellent as well. If there’s one slight gripe I’d have its that it was a little too burnt for my taste. But complaining about Carribbean barbecued chicken being too burnt is like complaining about Japanese sashimi being too raw. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be. So I ate my way around the charred bits and still got a nice dose of chicken (and then after I finished I went back to salvage all the pieces I missed, both the unburnt pieces and the dark brown pieces that I figured maybe weren’t so carcinogenic after all).
Right now I’m sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, stomach full but uncharacteristically full of energy knowing that I just had a completely satisfying yet carb-less lunch.
Island Spice Grill has it all, and easily gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. I will most certainly be back, again and again. Sadly, it doesn’t look like these guys have a Twitter or Facebook account, so you’ll need to just catch them when you see them. In addition to the 47th and Park sightings, Yelp users report what appears to be regular sightings in the Financial District.
Price I paid: $15
Line: 10 minutes
Tricks for fast ordering:
What to order if you’re a newbie: Combination Pork and Brisket and some grilled corn.