Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Jerky's is kind of quirky. After closing at the end of July in its location on Roosevelt Road, where it opened in 2013, there was a brief early-September soft opening on Center Street, followed by months of being closed, with brown paper over the windows, before finally opening for good in late November.
The place itself is kind of odd — painted Jamaican-style art on the walls (including admonitions to "aim straight" and "flush or suffer the consequence (sic)" in the men's restroom) — but classic rock vs. reggae on the sound system. The menu is huge and all over the place — the unifying theme being "jerk," the spicy style of Caribbean cooking, that is applied to chicken, ribs, shrimp and burgers.
Every table was taken at 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday, and by a little after noon diners were streaming upstairs to the additional seating area. We started with jerk chicken spring rolls ($7.99), a fairly odd application for jerk chicken, we thought. The four spring rolls were cut in half on the bias, and filled with typical spring roll vegetables. We really couldn't discern the chopped meat as jerk chicken, but a bit of heat and barbecue taste did appear on the finish.
Our sampling of four main courses suggests jerk chicken — whole, not chopped — is the best choice, followed by the ribs. You can get chicken or ribs in about any quantity — two to 20 on chicken and three to a rack of ribs — with zero, one or two sides. The three-piece jerk chicken dinner ($11.99) featured ample, tender, marinated, flavorful and spicy (but not overwhelmingly so) breast fillets. The accompanying fried okra and baked beans were decent but not transcendent.
The ribs are advertised as "mouth-watering fall off the bone," and while our four ribs ($10.50 with no sides) were certainly tasty, they were only slightly tender. But that was fine. They were meaty and the jerk was prominent but not dominant, a nice balance. We really liked the accompanying thin, spicy, vinegar-based barbecue sauce, which was not jerk-influenced, but was certainly tasty. We recommend the hot over the medium.
Our friend's burger ($8.50 with one side and a drink) was excellent — a 1/3-pound hand-patted burger with, again, just the right amount of jerk applied. The fries were crisp and hot but pretty standard otherwise.
The only loser in the bunch was the jerk chicken baked potato ($7.99), a huge potato with the usual fixings and an insignificant amount of the chopped chicken. We're sure the chopped jerk chicken is just a cut-up version of the fillets we enjoyed so much, but for whatever reason it seemed less flavorful with the potato and certainly not as moist.
We ordered banana pudding ($3.25) and were surprised to see it come in a to-go cup, but that's just the way it's served, our waitress told us. It was a puny portion with too high a vanilla wafer v. pudding quotient and no banana chunk. Luck of the scoop, we suppose.
Jerky's sits next to the very popular EJ's in a busy stretch of the financial district, and early crowds appear strong. We'll sample other items on the large menu on our next trip back — maybe a chili dog ... or jerk shrimp pasta ... or a salmon salad ... or jerk chicken tacos — but we expect the jerk chicken fillets to be tough to beat.
521 Center St.
You can get Jerky's meats in about any quantity with sides or no sides. Based on our first trip there, we'd say the meat's the thing, and the sides don't measure up.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted.