Jerk sauce and oxtail soup give the Jamaican house Jerk a taste of Kingston on St. Claude Street | Food and drink | Weekly maneuver

Life and business partners Jackie Diaz and Richard Rose have come a long and bumpy road to open the doors of their Jamaican restaurant Jerk House on Saint Claude Street.

Located where Sneaky Pickle began, the restaurant is inspired by Rose’s culinary roots. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he is a magician at making jerk seasoning, which he uses on everything from chicken to shrimp and even turkey at Thanksgiving. His wife is a self-taught chef, a first-generation Cuban-American with an innate sense of hospitality.

They have been married for 13 years and have worked hard to get where they are with their new business. She says parental substance abuse, problems in the foster care system, and a bout of homelessness could have propelled Diaz into a completely different place.

“We both went through hard times. We came from nothing and built a life together,” Diaz says. “I am so grateful we have each other.”

Rose came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild the city, but the program he signed up for had him working in industrial settings far from the city. Eventually he ended up working at an oil refinery in reserve, a job that at least paid the bills. While there, he sold packets of homemade jerk sauce to co-workers. In fact, he couldn’t keep up with the demand.

“I made more money selling the sauce than working,” he says.

After Rose was laid off in 2020, the couple began cooking and selling dishes from their home in Keener. “We’re only getting started on the weekends, and there will be queues outside the door,” Diaz says. “We started cooking every day because of our daughter.”

Now two years old, the youngest has been diagnosed with head defect, a birth defect that can lead to deformities of the head and face without treatment. They sold plates of jerk and stewed oxtail as fast as they could to earn money for the treatment.

“We weren’t waiting for Medicaid or waiting for anything to get treated. We worked to make money ourselves. People were waiting every day, and our neighbors started making jokes. We knew we had to get a place,” Diaz says.

Fortunately, they saw the place in Saint Claude. “When I saw this place, it was full of light,” Diaz says. “I knew it was the right move.”

After making major renovations themselves, they opened their restaurant at the end of 2021. Diaz takes on most of the cooking, following the Rose family’s recipes.

The 32-seat restaurant is painted in the colors of the Jamaican flag, where flat-screen TVs stream Jamaican videos and a reggae soundtrack. Orders are placed at the back desk, where there is an upper digital menu board.

There is a mini bar that includes house punch. “I’m still learning to make tropical drinks,” Diaz says. “We call Ben (Tabor) from Sneaky Pickle often when we have questions. He has been a great help to us.”

The bestseller on the list is slow-cooked oxtail, a tender and deeply flavored ragu that is served over pasta or with rice and peas. Well-known customers order a side of oxtail broth with another big seller, Roses Chicken, which is perfectly spiced and crunchy. There is also pork or beef ribs, wings, ham steaks, burgers, and jumbo shrimp.

Dishes are served on two sides, such as Caribbean-spiced macaroni and cheese, jalapeno potato salad, steamed cabbage, and fried sweet bananas. Another option is coconut corn, which are halves of the ears that are treated with jerk spices and cooked in coconut milk.

Specials may include grilled salmon served over rice or pasta and vegetarian “wings,” which are soy protein marinated on cane sugar. There’s also an impossible jerk burger for vegetarians. Curry chicken, shrimp and stewed brown chicken complete the menu.

The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. and is open until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and until 4 p.m. on Sundays.

The restaurant was crowded and became part of the neighborhood. “We both came from nothing, which is why we’re so excited to work hard,” Diaz says. “We are family and we treat our customers like family too.”

The Hall on Mag is a new food hall working for its August opening in the space that was previously home to the Warehouse District auction house’s market.

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