I was wandering around the beach in front of the Ritz this afternoon and guess what I found? The Ritz Jerk Centre! Geez. Here Lincoln and I spend a good hour yesterday driving all over the island to get to Scotchies when there’s a perfectly good jerk shack so close to my room that I should have been able to smell that spicy smoke.
I was sitting on the beach staring at the jerk shack as if it had just suddenly appeared over night but according to Lemuel Steele, the portly, bald waiter who has been keeping me in good supply with ice cold Red Stripes, it’s been there pretty much since the hotel opened in 2000. Used to be a towel hut for the beach, he tells me. “Seems people like it better as a jerk shack.”
And how’s the food?
“Oh, it’s good,” he tells me, smiling. “And they got the coldest Red Stripe on the island, no doubt, no doubt.”
Well hell, that’s good enough for me. So I wrapped a towel around my waist, threw on a T-shirt and loped up to the shack, taking a seat at the rustic bar. A Ritz chef was flipping over a gorgeous chunk of rolled pork on the grill.
Pork belly? I asked him.
“The leg of the trenton as we say on the island,” he replied.
His name was Ricardo Stewart and he’s normally a cook at Mangos, the pool-side restaurant, but he says he likes to come down to the jerk centre and cook a couple of times a week because he finds it relaxing. “Nobody in a hurry here,” he says, pointing at people tucking in to their lunches of jerk chicken and bammy, a pancake-shaped, deep-fried cassava bread.
As Ricardo barbecues, we chat. He tells me the Ritz figured they’d better put in a jerk shack when they realized that a lot of their guests were leaving the resort to go and get street food. “No reason not to do jerk right here on the beach,” he said.
He wouldn’t tell me exactly what went into his jerk—“Some garlic, pimento of course, a touch of ginger, some other stuff”—but admitted that the key ingredient was Scotch bonnet peppers. “The trick is how much you put in,” he said. “You want the heat, but you also don’t want to overpower the meat, if you see what I’m saying.”
Ricardo’s jerk was just fine. Not quite as smoky and moist, perhaps, as Scotchies, but damn fine just the same.
And as Lemuel had promised, they had the coldest Red Stripe I’d had yet on the island.