Traditional Jamaican recipes arrive with a twist
Jamaican food has finally made its way into the Santa Cruz dining scene, thanks to Tattoo Omen owner Tim Buonagurio and Aaron Bistrin, who opened Jerk House on Oct. 23. Jerk chicken is, of course, the staple dish, but we spoke with Buonagurio about what else the Jerk House has to offer.
What can you tell Santa Cruzans about Jamaican food?
TIM BUONAGURIO: It’s very bold, spicy and healthy. Mostly there’s a little bit of warmth and a little bit of cool. We make a tropical cucumber salad, with cucumbers, a little bit of red onion, mango and jicama. We have that on every plate. We also have sweet plantains that go with it.
How are you doing jerk chicken?
I really wanted to keep it traditional. There’s a certain way to do traditional jerk chicken. It’s a dry rub. We do that, but we do change it up some with a sweet glaze. Jerk is usually pretty spicy. We put that sweet glaze on it to give it a little bit of a twist. Trying to give it a little bit of a flair, but for the most part, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
No goat curry?
No, but we will be having goat curry soon. We’re also going to get oxtail. Oxtail soup is a pretty big staple. We’re looking at that as well.
What are Jamaican patties?
They are like a curry patty pastry. They are baked, kind of like empanada, and it comes with a side of raspberry sauce. We have three different kinds of patties. Everything here is 100 percent organic, and everything is 100 percent homemade. There’s one with spicy beef, onions, and green onions inside of it. That one has a kick to it. The veggie is a little more mild. It’s like a curry veggie. It’s mostly cabbage and carrots and some roots, as well. We sauté it and we stick it in the patties. We also have a sweet plantain with brown sugar and walnuts. That’s more of a dessert patty. It’s absolutely delicious.
What kind of ambience did you want to create to fit the cuisine?
I think our ambience is amazing. I wanted you to come in and be taken away with the smell, the taste, the sounds, the feel, everything. I think we accomplished that. We have an open kitchen, a Jamaican shack with a corrugated roof. We have a 1955 wind sailboat, which we turned into what we call “Shipwrecked Bar.” All of our tables are made from naturally fallen wood. We cut it, it has the natural bark on it. Almost 85 percent of our restaurant is recycled wood.
Do you play Jamaican music at Jerk House?
Yes. All day. You’re not going to hear country here, that’s for sure.
2525 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz, 316-7575, jerkhousesantacruz.com.
TASTES OF THE CARIBBEAN Aaron Bistrin (left) and Tim Buonagurio (right) of the Jerk House with the jerk chicken plate. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER