Story and Photos by Callie Sharkey
When the island-nation of Jamaica was in its infancy, the government decided to build an official residence for the prime minister, known as Jamaica House. To immerse yourself in the culture and food of this unique Caribbean island, pay a visit to the iconic building’s local namesake, Jamaica House Grill in Wellington.
Guests are greeted by reggae fusion music and portraits of Jamaican icons like Marcus Garvey and Usain Bolt. A cheerful rack of wines and an open floorplan greet visitors and continue to build the Jamaican setting.
There is no coincidence that Jamaican native and Executive Chef Collin Allen landed at Jamaica House Grill, often called JHG.
“I’ve worked at Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island, but for me, Jamaica House is the office of the prime minister, and I’m devoted to that,” said Allen, who served as the personal chef to Jamaica’s first female prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller.
He visited the restaurant when down in Florida on vacation.
“I saw the restaurant’s menu and said this is where I belong,” Allen recalled. “This is where I want to be — to take guests on a culinary journey of what it is to really have authentic Jamaican cuisine.”
Despite having cooked for celebrities like Harrison Ford, Ralph Lauren and Naomi Campbell, Allen finds joy in bringing his heritage to plate for everyone who visits Jamaica House Grill.
Jerk spices are a cornerstone of Jamaican food, and chicken wings are one of the best ways to showcase the different levels of spice available. From the tangy Mango Tree Wings to the bold Sorrel Jerk Wings, there is a flavor profile for every palate.
One of the most popular dishes at Jamaica House Grill is the Braised Oxtails. This rich and savory dish is served with seasonal vegetables, rice and peas. It is a direct inspiration from the Spanish heritage of the island.
Manager Steve Dillon pointed out several of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.
“Most people like the oxtail, curried goat and our fish. It’s a variety of dishes that I grew up eating every day,” said Dillon, who hails from New York but has been with Jamaica House Grill from the beginning. “I get to come here and have the best Jamaican dishes all in one spot.”
Since opening its doors in November 2019, the restaurant has been a dedicated source of authentic Jamaican flavors and traditional cuisine. The menu also contains American-style food such as burgers or mac and cheese alongside Jamaican staples like Curried Goat. Vegetarians also have a variety of options, such as the Coconut Curry Tofu, the Country Man Salad and the Jamaican classic Ital Bean Stew.
For the food extraordinaire Allen, every plate is important.
“At Jamaica House, we pay attention to the details and provide personalized service. So, when you come here, we will do the food according to how you like it to be done. Our jerk is spicy because it is authentic Jamaican food that we have inherited over the years. Our curry comes from India and China. We inherit the Ital from the Rastafarian culture,” said Allen, who is also fascinated by the history of the food. “Being spicy is a form of preserving food in the old days. Americans would use smoke, but we use herbs as a preservative. Our food gets better over time because of the rum and all the spices.”
But Allen doesn’t want the fear of trying intense jerk spices to concern patrons. “You tell us what you want. Don’t be afraid to come in, because everybody will get what they like. Jamaican food is spicy, but we can bring down the heat,” he said.
The Grilled Salmon is a must-try for any fish lover. The medium-well fillet is served in a sweet chili sauce encasing cherry tomatoes, diced bell peppers and onions. On the side is asparagus cooked in a delicate parsley butter, and the signature side of mashed sweet potatoes balances the sweet chili sauce.
For dessert, embrace the rich aromas of the Jamaica House Signature Bread Pudding with rum sauce. The plate arrives wrapped in the soft blue flames of the burning Jamaican rum.
The past year has been rough on many industries, particularly restaurants, but Jamaica House Grill has persevered and kept the focus on serving great food and keeping patrons happy.
“Back in New York, so many of the restaurants I grew up eating at are closed now,” said Dillon, who is optimistic about the future. “Jamaica House Grill made it through that, and we are still going. I believe that says something about the food and about us.”
Part of that future includes eventually expanding the restaurant’s hours and opening for breakfast service. Allen is excited to bring a Jamaican twist to traditional American breakfast items.
Jamaica House Grill is located at 2557 S. State Road 7 in Wellington, in the plaza with Whole Foods Market. The restaurant currently serves lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information, call (561) 619-9074 or visit www.jamaicahousegrills.com.