On those rainy Northwest days, when 75 degrees and a sandy beach sounds like a dream, make a pit stop in Belltown where you'll find a restaurant that will transport you to the Caribbean.
"We are at the Jerk Shack, which is the food of the sun," said chef/owner Trey Lamont. "So whenever you need some sunshine in Seattle, this is where you want to come."
Lamont grew up in Seattle eating traditional Southern soul food with his mom's side of the family. But, he often found himself eating Caribbean food during frequent visits to see his dad's family on the east coast. When he couldn't find the Caribbean dishes he loved around he, he decided to make them himself.
"It just spoke to me. It is soul food in itself. Caribbean food is the same thing as southern soul food, but it's the true southern cooking because it's south of the south," explained Lamont.
Now, folks flock to Jerk Shack for dishes like the jerk smoked ribs, cuban pork belly and the number one seller, the jerk fried chicken. The key to the perfectly crispy exterior is Lamont's signature jerk dry rub.
"Jerk is going to be different for every Caribbean household everywhere but the things you have to have to make it jerk, you have to have pimento berry, that's number one which is an allspice berry. You have to have thyme. You have to have garlic. You have to have scotch bonnet or habanero pepper," Lamont told me. "I believe our jerk dry rub is special because there's a balance to it. There's heat in there, but it's not going to burn your face off. You're going to get a balance of flavors. It's super aromatic...when you cook that it's going to make your whole house smell amazing."
Yes, stepping into Jerk Shack, even just to pick up takeout, is a feast for the sense. As important as what you smell, is what you see. The restaurant is an art gallery of sorts. With the exception of three pieces everything on the walls is for sale. Lamont doesn't take a commission. His goal, simply, is to give artists a platform to be seen and make a living.
"I'm an artist myself. They call it culinary arts for a reason. I get to do what I love to do. If I can give someone else an opportunity to do that same thing, why not?" said Lamont.
Providing opportunity is at the heart of Lamont's plans for the future. He hopes to open more Jerk Shack locations, with a fast casual approach, in South Seattle or south King County. The goal, use the Dick's Drive-In model, to create more well-paying jobs in those communities.
"We can go into communities that need us and change the circumstances and give lots of opportunity for community members who need it," explained Lamont. "Because it's not like they don't want it. They definitely want it. It's just the opportunity. The opportunity has to be given or not be taken away."
Whether it's those future locations or the original one thing is certain, visiting the Jerk Shack is like stepping into sunshine, even amidst the rain.
"I want people to feel like they are transported to a nice warm place where they go 'oh this exists here'," said Lamont. "When they get to taste the food what I want them to say is 'I have never tasted this in my life. I can't wait to go back'."
Jerk Shack is one of the many restaurants taking part in the Soul of Seattle. Celebrated chef Edouardo Jordan is partnering with Northwest Harvest to highlight local black-owned restaurants and businesses. The Soul of Seattle events are happening every Friday night throughout the month of February. Click here for more information.
Want to support more small businesses like Jerk Shack? We're proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find/connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.