Category Archives: Carribbean

Island Spice Grill (Jamaican)

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Food Truck: Island Spice Grill

Sighting: 47th and Park

Country: Jamaica

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.

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Hitched to the back of it was a grass-topped island umbrella and underneath it a giant oil drum grill.

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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

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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…

IMG_0974…and loading it into the styrofoam container.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The menu:

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Jerk Pan Jamaican Food Truck (Jamaican)

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Food Truck: Jerk Pan

Sighting: 46th and Park

Country: Jamaica

I had it in my head today to visit a deli food truck I’d seen today at 47th and Park to pick up a hot pastrami sandwich and a knish when on my walk I saw this intriguing truck at 48th.

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That’s right, it looks like a food truck but it’s completely devoid of any signage or markings other than a big Jamaican flag on top.

Whenever I pass by this truck I usually notice a line of people there so I was intrigued. Ironically, the minimalist approach worked for them–having zero signage probably did more to get my attention than if there’d been giant neon signs.

It turns out the truck is named Jerk Pan; the only way I could tell is by the paper brochures they were handing out in the front of the truck. I’m going to guess that their signage is still in the shop or something.

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My first encounter with Jamaican food was when my roommate in college cooked some amazing jerk chicken. Since then I’ve always been on the lookout for good Jamaican food. Little did I know I’d find it in this nondescript truck.

It looked like most of the people on line were regulars, but I had no idea how to even start ordering. I looked in the brochure and saw that they had two sizes for platters–medium and large, ranging from $8-11 and $10.50-13 respectively. There was also the option of a lunch special size called “mini” which ranged from $6.50 to $8.50.

I figured that since the average price at food trucks I’ve been paying has been about $10-12, I’d splurge and get the “large” platter. Famous last words. You can see a picture of what I got below but needless to say, there was enough rice here to feed a few armies. It’s definitely one of the better values among all the food trucks.

You can choose from several meats–jerk chicken, curry chicken, brown stew chicken, curry goat, oxtail, and fried chicken. For me the choice was obvious–the jerk chicken.

The ordering process was the worst nightmare for someone like me who likes to understand the rules upfront. I ordered the platter and the woman behind the windows asked me what rice I wanted. I had to ask and it turns out the options were white and rice & beans. I got the rice & beans.

Then, she asked whether I wanted steamed vegetables or macaroni salad. Because of the street noise and the noise coming from the truck I had to ask her to repeat it a few times. I chose the steamed vegetables.

Then she asked me what kind of sauce I wanted and rattled off a long list of them which I couldn’t follow. I did hear the word “oxtail” and since I’m partial to oxtail I chose that one. But in all these cases it would have been nice for these choices to have been listed on the truck or in the menu. She was relatively patient with me, but I can’t imagine the stress levels if there’d been a long line behind me.

The food came pretty quickly. When I got back to the office, this is what I opened the styrofoam box to:

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As I said, the large is really, really large. I will likely be foregoing dinner tonight.

The taste of the chicken was excellent. It was perfectly seasoned with just the right amount of kick and that classic spicy and smoky jerk flavor. The black coloring of jerk chicken isn’t necessarily charring but the colors of the spices.

If there’s one expectation you need to set before ordering this, it’s that it’s very authentic in that the chicken isn’t going to be in recognizable form, like a breast, leg, thigh, or McNugget. You’ll get chunks of chicken chopped up that include bone and bone shards. While some may not be accustomed to eating chicken this way, it’s fairly common in Carribbean and Asian cuisines. I like to view the shards of bone as speed bumps on the road to pigging out–they make you slow down the shoveling just enough so that you don’t end up choking or damaging your dental work.

The steamed vegetables is an interesting combination of cabbage and carrots with a small amount of peas, corn, lima beans, and green beans thrown in. I was dreading that it might be mushy from being over-steamed but to my surprise the cabbage still had a nice crunch to it.

Overall, I was really impressed with the food, the service would have been there too if it was just a little easier to order. But if you’re in the 48th and Park area, it’s definitely worth it just to be able to escape to the Caribbean for an hour.

4 of 5

Price I paid: $11.00

Line: 5 minutes

Tricks for fast ordering: Study the menu and be ready to answer questions quickly. What sides do you want (steamed vegetables, fresh vegetables, macaroni salad, rice and beans, white rice, plantains, patty, coco bread)? What sauce do you want (evidently you can get sauce of any meat, regardless of the actual meat you order)?

What to order if you’re a newbie: Medium Jerk Chicken Platter

The menu:

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On the Web:

Jerk Pan Jamaican Food Truck on Facebook