Chow Down In Milwaukee

Restaurant Reviews

Caribbean Taste at Island Jam

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a fan of anything tropical. Some may even say that I am obsessed. Living in a state that some would argue has 9 months of winter and 3 months of bad sledding forces one to be creative when it comes to maintaining sanity and fighting off cabin fever. It is with this in mind that I bring you this latest restaurant review. On every federal holiday, coworkers and former coworkers of mine from the United States Postal Service pick a location to gather at for lunch.

Once a week I drive through the city of South Milwaukee. As I glance on the east side of Chicago avenue, I see a building painted with the colors of Jamaica. Island Jam is located at 2703 south Chicago avenue. Wanting to escape to at least the flavor of the Caribbean, I suggested we meet there for lunch. On this day I was joined by my coworkers and friends John, Don, Tom and of course my lovely Margie.

Island Jam has a rather limited menu. It is one of the things I first noticed. You are limited to roughly 10 different choices. Don and Tom arrived first. Tom had ordered the red snapper. It was good he arrived first as there is an hour cook time for this particular item. As we were not pressed for time, we relaxed at the long bar waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Island Jam offers a wide choice of cocktails and beer, featuring, of course, Red Stripe Jamaican beer. Tom and Don availed themselves to some beverages. Margie chose to order a rum and coke. The drinks were served quickly and tasted wonderful.

As the rest of our group arrived, we sat at one of the many tables. The decorating is sparse, some may even say austere, but what there was had a distinct island feel. John and Don both ordered the curry chicken. They both enjoyed the flavor immensely. I am not sure to what degree they are able to handle spice, but they handled it well. They both said it had the perfect balance of flavor and spice. With only a few bites in, I believe it was Don who said, “I’ll be back.” This is how amazing the cuisine is at Island Jam.

I could not pass on the curry goat. It is a dish that I often order when I am in Jamaica. One of my favorites I have ever tasted came when I was in the city of Negril. I was interested, although somewhat trepidatious, to see how the local offering measured up. I would not be disappointed. With curry goat I was told to achieve full flavor satisfaction you must suck the flavor out of the bones. Luckily for me, there were quite a few bones for me to enjoy. Something that held true for all our dishes. The curry sauce was a unique almost green color and the flavor was just as special. The spice was present but not overwhelming. It seemed to grow mildly as my dinner disappeared. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat.

Tom, who had to wait the longest for his dish (although we timed our orders so we could all eat together) was the least satisfied. The red snapper arrived as if it had just been plucked from the ocean. The head and tail were still attached. This may frighten off some of you, but I found it reassuring that you were getting a fresh product. Tom did say he enjoyed the flavor of his dish but lamented the work of picking out all the bones. In a world where most of us are used to getting our fish between two buns in a drive-thru, this can seem a bit tedious.

I saved Margie’s dish for last because it may have been the best of the bunch. Margie order the combo with jerk chicken and oxtail. Jerk chicken is what the majority of us might think of when we think of Jamaican cuisine, and rightfully so, but it represents only a fraction of what can be enjoyed. Recently, Margie and I had visited Runaway Bay Jamaica. One of our favorite things about the trip was the jerk chicken they served. The jerk chicken they served at Island Jam was on the same level. Oxtail is something that may not be as common. I had never had it until this day. When I put the piece that

Margie was kind enough to give me in my mouth it melted. The meat was so tender and the gravy so delicious that I might even contemplate, if just for a moment, forgoing the goat next time.

Every dish was served in a ‘to go container’ and with the same two sides. There was a mixture of red beans and rice. I am usually very skeptical when it comes to such sides. The rice tends to be dry and lack flavor. Not at Island Jam! The rice was steamed and moist. The beans were flavorful and the perfect compliment. The other side that came with each dish was steamed cabbage. It did not have a great deal of flavor compared to everything else on the plate but still fit quite nicely. It provided your palate a nice break between amazing forkfuls of delicious Jamaican food.

Everyone in attendance agreed that a return trip to Island Jam would be on their list of things to do. I would love to come back on a Friday or Saturday. In addition to the regular menu items they also feature Jerk Pork. If you are looking for a fancy elaborate place to eat, this would not be it. If you are on a search for amazing Jamaican food in a clean and friendly environment, you could do no better than to pay a visit to Island Jam. Take your culinary urges on vacation to the islands. You will only have to go as far south as South Milwaukee.


By: Neil Panosian

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