Jamaican Jerk Kitchen brings a world of flavor to Hendersonville
If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean, then you probably know the look of a typical Caribbean restaurant — and if you’ve spent a long time there, finding a place that resembles an authentic island restaurant can be a big comfort in a small mountain town. So when you walk through the front door of SP Jamaican Jerk Kitchen in Hendersonville, hear the thin sounds of the TV speakers cranking out reggae beats, see the bright green and yellow walls, the sparse tables, the multiple posters of Usain Bolt, the white styrofoam carry-out containers in which nearly everything is served, you start to feel like you’ve found the real thing.
Then you catch a whiff of all that spice in the air, and the aroma confirms it.
The SP in the restaurant’s name stands for the husband-and-wife team of Steve and Pearl Richards, proprietors of the kitchen. Originally from Kingston, Steve had been working at a Jamaican joint in Spartanburg when Pearl convinced him they should open up a place of their own in her hometown of Hendersonville. When the building Pearl had been eyeing became available, they pounced on it.
“We just wanted our own business,” says Pearl, who opened the restaurant in June of this year. “My three kids [Jamaica, Joreeca, and Roshane] helped us out a lot, as well,” she adds, before Jamaica interjects, “Well … I’ve helped out the most,” with a laugh.
“We still live in Boiling Springs, but we knew that Hendersonville didn’t have a Jamaican restaurant anymore, even though there was one a long time ago,” says Jamaica, referring to the long-shuttered One Love. “We thought it would be something different for the area to bring back Caribbean flavors.”
And bring it back they have. Goat and chicken curries, brown stew chicken, beef patties, rice and peas, mac and cheese, candied yams, steamed cabbage, Rasta Pasta, and don’t forget about the fried plantains and coco bread.
“The most popular [dishes] are the jerk chicken and the ox tail,” says Jamaica, who notes, “the jerk can be really spicy sometimes, but it depends on the day.” (Since the family makes their own sauce, the spiciness can vary based on the peppers.) “[But] I think more people should order the red snapper,” she says of the massive dish of steamed fish, served whole with head and tail attached. “When people try it, they can’t stop talking about it.”
“We have shrimp that we cook different ways, as well,” adds Pearl. “We do garlic, butter, jerk, and curry.”
As a cuisine, Jamaican food is an incredibly diverse melting pot of culinary styles culled from around the globe and from centuries of the island’s history: Native Taíno recipes blend with the flavors of food carried over by invading colonists and those the invaders had enslaved, as Jamaica passed from Spanish to British control before finally gaining independence in 1962.
Jerk seasonings, developed by enslaved Africans brought to the island by the Spanish in the 1500-1600s, resemble the bright, tangy flavors of West African foods, often reflected in Southern and Cajun traditions as well. Curry powder was introduced to Jamaica in the 1800s by indentured laborers brought from India by the British after they took over the island from the Spanish. Also arriving in the 1800s were Chinese indentured laborers, who carried their own food and influences, all stirring into the same pot to yield one of the most unique, vibrant cuisines in the Americas.
Dishes like Ackee & Salt Fish highlight this melange of cultures. “A lot of people don’t know about it, but Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica,” says Jamaica. As it turns out, the fruit — African in origin and similar to the lychee — has taken on its own life as an ingredient in Jamaican dishes. “A lot of people think it’s going to be sweet, but it’s not. It almost looks like a scrambled egg, and it just goes so well with the sauces. We eat it with salt fish, onions, peppers, yam, corn, potatoes, and bananas.
“People think [Jamaican cuisine] is all spicy, but it’s not,” she adds. “There’s certain stuff on the menu that’s spicy, and certain stuff that isn’t, but everything is very well seasoned.
“It’s like having a party in your mouth, basically.”
SP Jamaican Jerk Kitchen, 1971 Asheville Hwy., Hendersonville. Open Monday through Saturday, 11am-9pm; Sunday, 11am-6pm. For more information, call 828-595-6869 or see “SP Jamaican Jerk Kitchen” on Facebook.