It's a jerk-off: Mr. Brown's Lounge vs. Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill | Bleader

It's a jerk-off: Mr. Brown's Lounge vs. Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill

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Jerk chicken and potatoes, Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Jerk chicken and potatoes, Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill

Two Jamaican restaurants opened this summer in unlikely settings. Jerk fans used to trading cash through bulletproof glass for smoky-sweet yardbird and consuming it al trunko could at least could hope for a more comfortable environment at either one. First there was the second location of Ukrainian Village's Mr. Brown's Lounge that opened in the Hard Rock Hotel. Next came Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill on the car-swept corner of Chicago and Halsted, a brick-and-mortar anchor for the food truck of the same name. 

The new Mr. Brown's has a slightly more expanded and varied menu as would befit a hotel restaurant, with things like curried goat, grilled shrimp, fried snapper, and jerk filet mignon, while still retaining a focused island identity on both the menu and in the air, with classic reggae on the sound system (I only heard Bob Marley three times in 45 minutes) and an extensive collection of framed LP covers on the walls.

Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill

Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill takes a less folkloric approach. It's a sleek counter-service operation in the Chipotle mode (excepting the full bar) with a choice of chicken, pulled pork, or brisket with sides and sauces.

Both pleasant environments, but the most important question is how well do they jerk?

Jerk chicken, Mr. Brown's Lounge - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • Jerk chicken, Mr. Brown's Lounge

Mr. Brown's $16 island jerk chicken is an impressively sized half bird slathered in a potent jerk sauce that builds in intensity as you work your way through it. The chicken comes with a side of rice and peas, plantains, and some pretty bland slaw that's livened up with an extra side of sauce. The problem with this bird—which is described on the menu, tellingly, as "finished on a charcoal grill"—is that it's precooked somehow, but clearly not in the vicinity of any wood. There's no smokiness, no breath of the fire, and meat itself is bland and mealy. 

Jerk Modern Jamaican sounds a lot more promising. They have a smoker on the premises combusting imported pimento wood. They're also boasting cage-free birds, and that's pretty evident from the firm, tensile texture and inherent chickeny flavor that somehow balances a rather light seasoning. There's also not quite as much smokiness as you'd expect, but it's there, and JMJG's Rude Girl jerk sauce is potent. The biggest problem? No bones. Just irregular chicken bits for $9.95. Still, JMJG, has the advantage with both chicken and sides, including a surprisingly spicy mac 'n' cheese and some very simple but terrific salted potatoes.

It isn't all irie. The smoker isn't very kind to the brisket ($11.95) or the pulled pork ($10.95), which emerge almost ossified. Stick with the chicken and it'll be alright.

jerk brisket, island slaw, Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill - MIKE SULA
  • Mike Sula
  • jerk brisket, island slaw, Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill

Jerk Modern Jamaican Grill, 811 W. Chicago, (312)-763-2870, jerkgrill.com
Mr. Brown's Lounge, 81 E. Wacker Place, (312)-334-6760, mrbrownslounge.com/locations/the-loop



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