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New restaurant in Macon offers authentic Jamaican food with ‘a flair of Southern soul’

Owner and Chef Kirk Henry, a native of Jamaica, offers authentic island cuisine with “a flair of Southern soul” at his new restaurant in Macon.

Before moving to Middle Georgia in 2010, Henry worked at Sandals Resorts and then on a cruise ship. KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. is the 40-year-old’s second restaurant.

Henry previously served up his oxtails, curry goat and ackee and salt fish at Kirk’s Jerk Kitchen in downtown Milledgeville for about four years before deciding to relocate to Macon.

He was originally looking at another site when he learned that the Vineville Avenue spot, formerly home to Southern Vegan Soul Cafe, had become available.

Owner and Chef Kirk Henry holds up a plate of ackee and salt fish at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Owner and Chef Kirk Henry holds up a plate of ackee and salt fish at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

The food

“I do all the cooking,” Henry said. “Everything is fresh. Made from scratch.”

In addition to traditional Jamaican food, Henry also weaves in a little Southern comfort with his jerk pork ribs, cornbread, mac-n-cheese and potato salad.

His Jamaican specialties include red snapper, rum fire shrimp, brown-stew chicken, chicken curry and roti. He also has beef, curry chicken and veggie patties, festival bread, conch soup (based on the availability of the conch meat), plantains, potato pudding and more.

Ackee and salt fish at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Ackee and salt fish at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

Jamaica’s national dish

On a recent, unannounced visit, we tried two dishes, including the ackee and salt fish, which is the national dish of Jamaica. Often served for breakfast and brunch, this traditional favorite is prepared with Jamaica’s national fruit, ackee, and salted codfish.

The edible part of a fully ripe, properly processed ackee fruit is safe to eat, but surprisingly, the unripe fruit and the rind and the seeds of a ripe fruit are never to safe to eat, according to the FDA, which regulates their import.

The fruit and fish are boiled together. The fish bones are removed for this dish, though most traditional Jamaican dishes retain the bones. Diced tomatoes, onions and peppers are sauteed separately with herbs and spices and then mixed with the fruit and fish.

The dish was served over rice and peas, one of the side dishes I selected. Not spicy, Henry’s ackee and salt fish had a wonderfully seasoned combination that literally melts in your mouth.

The rice and peas also had a good flavor and rated above rice and peas tried at other Jamaican restaurants. The plantains were fried and had a sweet taste.

My second side dish was the Jamaican coleslaw, which was light and tangy. I’d recommend this also for spicy dishes to balance the heat.

Jerk shrimp at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Jerk shrimp at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

Now for some heat

Speaking of heat, I sampled a couple of the jerk shrimp that our videographer ordered. What a wonderful combination of sweetness upon the first bite of the jerk shrimp that explodes into spicy. I was glad that I had bottled water on hand but also eagerly ate the second shrimp.

His meal also included plantains and two sides. He chose rice and peas and mixed vegetables.

His thoughts on the dish: “Large portion for the price and with good heat that made me need that drink.” He tried a mango flavored, non-alcoholic bottled drink.

I also tried the callaloo spring rolls that came with a side of jerk juice for dipping. Callaloo is a green leafy vegetable. Crispy and yummy.

Kirk’s jerk chicken spring rolls at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Kirk’s jerk chicken spring rolls at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

We also tried the festival bread at Henry’s suggestion. The bread, served warm, reminded me of a fried homemade doughnut without the sugar. The bread is perfect to offset the heat of spicy dishes.

Festival bread at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Festival bread at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

Among the dishes ordered by customers who came in while we there was a veggie plate of rice and peas, mixed veggies, potato salad and plantains.

Vegetable plate at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Vegetable plate at KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

Dessert

Additionally, I took home a slice of dessert for later. The potato pudding, a pie that’s made with imported Jamaican sweet potatoes, a mixture of spices such as cinnamon, plus fresh coconut and fruit (raisins in this case). Henry said this is best served heated, so I warmed my slice in the microwave that night.

Potato pudding from KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Potato pudding from KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

The potato pudding had just a hint of what reminded me of the mincemeat pies. But not at all the same. Mincemeat pies are just a little too heavy for my taste. But this potato pudding was just right for me: light with just a little kick.

Among the other dessert selections on the menu but dependent on what’s made for the day are Jamaican rum cake and a key lime cake — again that blend of authentic island food with a taste of the South where Henry and his family now make their home.

Owner and Chef Kirk Henry and cashier Emma Durogene speak on Instagram live at KJK Jamaican Kitchen located at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
Owner and Chef Kirk Henry and cashier Emma Durogene speak on Instagram live at KJK Jamaican Kitchen located at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.

A helping hand

Emma Durogene came in the first week the small restaurant opened and saw Henry busy filling some 20 orders by himself. She needed a job and asked if she could help. After a subsequent interview, she got the job.

She’s the cashier, dish washer, whatever help Henry may need. The restaurant, which opened two weeks ago Friday, is still in its soft-opening mode.

“His Milledgeville customers followed him over her,” Durogene noted.

The restaurant is designed primarily for takeout. A few tables and chairs are inside where you can wait for your meal to be prepared to order. Henry doesn’t mind if you eat your meal inside like we did.

Customers order at the counter or may call in their order ahead of time. Henry expects to offer online ordering through DoorDash once he gets that set up. He currently is not using the drive-thru window but said he may consider opening it down the road.

Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The number is 478-259-2398.

Owner and Chef Kirk Henry at his new Macon restaurant, KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave.
Owner and Chef Kirk Henry at his new Macon restaurant, KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave.
KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.
KJK Jamaican Kitchen at 3348 Vineville Ave. in Macon.