THUNDER BAY -- Nestled in the spot vacated by the Polish Bistro on Algoma, there’s a new bright spot offering Jamaican and Caribbean food and more.
Island Spice Jerk House, which opened on May 16 this year, is the creation of two friends, Oshane Burton and Leanne Siddo. Burton moved to Canada from Jamaica four years ago while Siddo is married to a Jamaican, and they both wanted to recreate a bit of Jamaica in Northwest Ontario, starting with the food.
They enlisted the help of chef Douglas Chin, who makes not only jerk chicken and pork, but also curried goat and chicken, oxtail stew, brown stew chicken, roti, patties, a different soup every day and four kinds of fish on Fridays.
None of the dishes have been adapted for Canadian tastes, the owners and chef all say. “Our focus is keeping it all authentic. But we also want to bring a wider variety of Jamaican food that’s not available in Thunder Bay,” Burton explains. Succulent and flavourful, jerk chicken is the most popular, but curried goat is a top seller as well.
On Fridays, they serve red snapper four ways - the most popular is stewed fish; cooked in a homemade fish sauce with vegetables. There’s also steamed fish, which is light and healthy, escovitch, which is a crispy fried fish, and curried fish.
“Fish Friday is not just about the fish. In Jamaica, after work on Friday night, people like to hang out, go out for dinner, have something nice - we eat a lot of meat during the week so fish is nice. On fish Friday we have a lot of people come in, not just to eat fish, but to socialize,” Burton says.
They are working on acquiring a licence now, so that they can serve beer to go with the food.
“There’s a misconception that all our food is spicy, but that’s not true,” Burton says. The curry goat is on their spicier end, while the curried chicken and stew chicken is mild, and there is every level of spice in between, so if you’re not sure, ask the staff for recommendations. If you really love your food hot, ask for their hot sauce, made in-house.
Making their own hot sauce is a challenge, since the scotch bonnet peppers they need are expensive and hard to come by here. While they source most of their meat and vegetables from local suppliers such as the Maltese and Renco, they still have to order some things from Toronto, such as frozen red snapper and many of the popular Caribbean drinks such as Peardrax (from Trinidad) and Ting (from Jamaica).
“It’s been wonderful,” Siddo says of the past few months. People have been very receptive to what they have to offer, and the restaurant has also become popular with Thunder Bay’s many international students.
The two started with this restaurant, but it’s not just Jamaican food they want to offer Thunder Bay. “It’s the culture, Jamaican culture is huge for us,” says Siddo. Burton is a DJ (you can find him DJing at the Foundry sometimes) and they hope the restaurant will become a place people gather at not just for food, but music and a relaxed Jamaican vibe as well.