By Matt Tapia
The IE (unfortunately) just isn’t blessed with an abundance of All Things Jerk. This is not to say that we never had any Kingston cuisine grace our grubby region. My memory dimly recalls a Caribbean-themed restaurant somewhere here in Corona (Tropical Grill?) and we recently encountered a similar place in Redlands called Dhat Island, a place that is less of a bona fide eatery and more of a catering place that opens occasionally during the week for dine-in customers.
So it was with great delight and anticipation that I learned about Island Breeze in Colton from a Weekly intern. The last time I’d wrapped my taste buds around some real-deal jerk chicken was about three years ago during a vacation in Negril (Sorry, California Pizza Kitchen, your jerk chicken pizza doesn’t count). And this meal was pretty authentic. Served pipin‘ on a couple of sheets of aluminum foil with two hunks of white bread as a side, the chicken had been prepared in one of those outdoor oil drum-like grills by a guy named “Bobo” who clenched a modest spliff between his lips. Nice.
The burden was on Island Breeze to see if Colton could indeed deliver a taste from the land of wood and water that I had been craving on and off for years.
First, I’ve gotta do this place justice and say that for a small, cozy establishment, the color scheme of yellow and green (natch’) and tropical vibe (carved wooden fish decorating the walls, et al.) lent this place a spacious, airy, dare I say, breezy feel.
And I was totally blown away by how Jamaicanly Jamaican this place was. I mean, this was no one-trick pony with a curried goat dish or two and a Dr. Pepper fountain drink dispenser or salsa bar in the corner dispelling the island mystique. Everything was imported straight from the muthaland. The hot sauces (Scotch bonnet—what Jamaicans call habanero—pepper sauce) were imported and all the beverages (ginger beer, coconut water, Ting—jeez, you’ve gotta try this grapefruit soda of the gods!) were equally true-blue. And the menu? It’s got you covered from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. Curried chicken. Curried goat. Jerk chicken. Oxtail. Ackee and salt fish. Curried mutton. Jamaican patties. Fried plantains. Ya’ mon!
To see how the food measured up, we delved into the obvious choice: jerk chicken. To the novice, this dish is comprised of chicken prepared with a spicy dry rub traditionally characterized by the aforementioned Scotch bonnet, allspice, scallions, pepper and other spices. Hot? You better believe it. But buyer beware: the jerk chicken you’ll run into at chain places (Both California Pizza Kitchen and the Elephant Bar offer jerk chicken pizzas) is likely a toned down variety that’s meant to keep the spice newbies’ taste buds intact. To a degree, I run into this issue at Island Breeze where the heat factor is just a couple of notches below my expectations. But, then again, I’m a heat elitist (with a death wish—oh, ghost chili, where are you?) and I’m pretty nit-picky when it comes to spicy foods. However, the taste of the chicken and the sauce and the skin and the bone (it’s all good) is hands-down delicious and deserves recognition as a true gustatory delight. Mouth-watering is just the tip of the oxtail here.
My meal also comes with boiled banana, which curiously works as a starchy side—think an ersatz potato. There’s also a dumpling-like side that is chewy and frybread-ish—an earthy contrast to the savory poultry.
Oh, and I’ve gotta rave about the ginger beer, a soft drink flavored with (you guessed it) ginger root. Crisp and refreshing with just a bit of bite or tang that hits the back of your throat, this “beer” works well to quench any island-stewed soul’s thirst.
Sure, Island Breeze doesn’t quite measure up to Bobo—but in a region bristling with a million Thai and burger joints from here to Needles, this Kingston-inspired fare is a scintillating change of pace for the gastronomically land-locked.
Island Breeze Jamaican Cuisine, 1063 S. Mount Vernon Ave., Colton, (909) 514-0771; www.myspace.com/islandbreezejam. Mon-Thurs 11AM-8PM, Fri-Sat 11AM-9PM. AE, D, MC, V.