Jamaican Grill Tumon - Where Good Just Got Seriously Better! Ya Mon!
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
The recent opening of Tumon's Jamaican Grill marks a milestone in the ten-year development of a unique culinary adventure that has brought the spiced flavors of a Carribbean island nation to stimulate and satisfy the palates of the people of Guam and its Asian visitors. It is also a personal triumph for two entrepreneurs, Frank Kenney and Tim Murphy, to see their dream evolve from a small barbecue stand in the Chamorro village restaurant incubator to eventually grow in popularity to enable them to branch out with a second location in the heart of Guam's tourism district, Tumon.
Located in the 2nd floor of the CarlRose Building, across San Vitores from the Pacific Island Club, the Jamaican Grill has done everything to draw attention to itself, with outrageous colors and bold signage - try to imagine what a visitor would make of the words "Serious Food"! Once you get into the spirit and personality of this charming, carefree eaterie, you'll begin to spout off phrases like "Ya Mon" and "Irie", and you'll find yourself bopping along to the Jamaican rhythms and tunes popularized by the legendary performer, Bob Marley. What still amazes me is how both Murphy and Kenney have captivated the local taste buds, introducing a completely new and different cuisine to Guam, giving them a virtual franchise on jerk-seasoned meats. They are the only game in town for Jamaican food, period, amen!
If you've never had Jamaican food, the Grill offers a palatable introduction to the medley of sweet, aromatic, spices that comprise the blend called "jerk seasoning". These spices are primarily chilies, cloves, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, allspice,and onions, which can be made into a wet paste or rubbed on the surface in its dry form. The Jamaican Grill's menu originated with foods dear to the local hearts - chicken and ribs, with fish coming in a distant third. These meats form the basis for most of the menu offerings, and are served as single or combo meals, on plates for individuals or on platters for large groups.
The genius of what Murphy and Kenney have achieved with the new Tumon eatery (which offers both comfortable indoor as well as outdoor dining on a patio deck overlooking Tumon's main artery), is that they have moved from competing with established fast food outlets (like McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, Subway, and Burger King) to more upscale eateries like Tony Roma's, Capricciosa, Friday's, Hard Rock Cafe, T.G.I. Friday's, and Planet Hollywood. These theme restaurants are franchised and offer sit-down dining with varied menus and an entertaining "atmosphere". When you visit the Tumon Jamaican Grill, you'll notice impressive design elements and artistic enhancements, meticulously created to set a festive mood for enjoying one of life's great pleasure - eating! The bright, colorful mural above the open kitchen window has a medley of fruits and vegetables that typify the festive ambiance and rural essence of Jamaican life. It sets a pace that resonates throughout the restaurant, along with the reggae sounds beating in the background.
My guest for our night's dining (which happened to be the Grill's "Trial Run"), was Ms. Toshie Ito, a long-time friend and founder of Motiva, Inc., a human resource development firm. We ordered our "Splashes", delicious fruit based beverages which really compliment the jerk flavors - we ordered Reggae Sunsplash made with mango, guava, and pineapple juices. Toshie ordered the Freshly Grilled Vegetable Plate ($8.25) and I had the Triple Combo ($12.50), for Jerk Chicken, Ribs and Fish. We had several servers who's training had become apparent...they were always smiling and unobtrusively checking on us and other guests. For salads, Toshie ordered the Fresh Fruit Salad and I had the House Salad. The House salad had crisp Romaine lettuce topped with cucumbers, carrots and watermelon. It is accompanied by a small ramekin of House Fruit Dressing. Toshie's Fruit Salad had grapes, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and orange.
When I took my first bite of the Kingston BBQ Jerk Chicken, I immediately recognized that there was something different about the taste, texture, and juiciness of the meat. It was more alive than what I'd been used to having. My tour of the kitchen confirmed my beliefs that the cooking equipment technology in the new kitchen was quantum leaps ahead of the original location's, which was built piecemeal over time. The Boston Beach Ribs also seemed to have a better flavor and texture. The yellowfin tuna pieces that I had with my triple combo were a little on the dry side, but still flavorful, and moistened by the fruit salsa atop it. Whenever I eat at Jamaican Grill I always opt for the Jamaican Rice & Peas...however, I now find that I can't finish the huge portion they pile on the plate. They also add pepperocinis that I like to squeeze over part of the rice before eating it.
Toshie's Freshly Grilled Vegetable Plate was quite fetching, with each piece of the assorted vegetables showing grill marks. The eggplant was delicious, as was the onion, and bell pepper. It also had two large scoops of Jamaican Rice & Peas. While sitting at the tables, we let our eyes roam the room and noticed so many details they'd worked on to make a complete impression. Everything, from the menu holder on the table, was woven using little wood sticks. The forks and knives were in a basket using similar materials tied together with dried palm leaves. The ashtrays are made from coconuts cut in half and shellacked, with a mini fake coconut tree standing on the back. The outdoor dining is comfortable, with plenty of seating and serves as the "Smoking" section. The one thing conspicuously absent from the new Jamaican Grill is the fact that there were no flies buzzing around annoying people!! There are many other menu items available, from Irie Pork Chops, Marinated Beef Short Ribs, Carribbean Steak, Grilled Local Catch, Steamed Local Catch, Fresh Fish and Shrimp Skewer, and Island Shrimp. Dinner salads include the Montego Bay Chef Salad, Chicken Kelaguen Salad and Rice Salad.
Family platters are available combining the different meats, with the Famous Family Platter being the baseline, for $36.95 you get a serious platter that has One Whole Kingston BBQ Jerk Chicken, One Full Slab of Boston Beach Ribs, Plenty of Rice and a separate plate of house salad, ideal for feeding 6-8 people. Party platters are available in various combinations, too, with Party Packs (Complete with condiments and disposables) available for groups of 25 ($195), 50 ($380), and 100 ($750) people. Of course, take out is available for all menu items, and the new Tumon location has a satellite hut downstairs that has a walk-up window for ordering. The food is pulleyed down from above when ready.
The new Jamaican Grill in Tumon is managed by Bob Raras, a 20 year food service veteran from the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa. The phone numbers in Tumon are 647-3000 and 647-4000. The hours in Tumon will be from 10am to 11pm daily. I highly recommend the Jamaican Grill as a fun destination for the whole family, where everyone will enjoy the SERIOUS FOOD! Ya Mon!