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Irie Jerk Bar And Grill Embodies Carefree Caribbean Style In Former Rookies

By Ariel Cheung | May 3, 2017 5:47am
 A new Jamaican restaurant specializing in jerk chicken has opened in Wrigleyville.
Irie Jerk Bar and Grill Adds Jamaican To Wrigleyville Cuisine
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LAKEVIEW — The Jamaican Patois word "irie" means many things in the Caribbean nation, from good vibes to a friendly greeting to a sense that everything is (or is going to be) all right.

In Wrigleyville, it means jerk chicken wings, rum punch and reggae.

Irie Jerk Bar and Grill opened in March at 3404 N. Clark St., in the former Rookies Bar. Owner and chef Kevin Grossett is serving food the way he learned to make it in his native Jamaica — thoroughly marinated and smoked to perfection.

"Cooking is a family thing," Grossett said. "Cooking from the soul, that's really where I got the passion for authentic Jamaican food. It's cooked with a lot of love."

Jerk spice — perhaps the most recognizable aspect of Jamaican cuisine — is found throughout the menu at Irie (pronounced "eye-ree").

"Jerk chicken is not really something you throw together," Grossett said. "It's something you really have to marinate and take your time. And you don't cook it with fire, you cook with smoke to bring out the flavor."

Jamaican jerk wings with fried plantains are $9 and can also come smothered in a jerk barbecue sauce or with a zest buffalo honey sauce. [All photos DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Traditionally made with allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers along with a blend of other spices like thyme, garlic, nutmeg and cloves, jerk marinade coats the grilled chicken wings ($9 or $12 for an entree) and liberally seasons the jamrock jerk tacos, which come made with chicken, steak or shrimp.

RELATED: Irie Bar and Grill Bringing Jamaican Food To Rookies Spot In Wrigleyville

The slow-cooked jerk pork has been a hit since Irie opened, Grossett said. Like other entrees, which range from $11.50 to $30, it comes with a choice of two sides that include rice and beans, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, sweet festival cornbread or fried plantains.

Jerk chicken is Irie's specialty, and it comes with two sides as an entree or can be ordered separately as a quarter, half or whole chicken for $6-$14.

The food is plated simply, with a casual air that matches the easygoing but colorful decor inside Irie. Grossett and his fiancée spent about a year renovating the restaurant.

Other traditional Jamaican dishes grace the menu, but might be more unfamiliar to casual diners. The brown stew chicken, for example, is pan-seared and then cooked in a sweet sauce until tender. Curry goat, shrimp or chicken entrees are simmered with onions, thyme, carrots and potatoes.

The oxtail entree at Irie is made with country gravy, peppers, butter beans and potatoes.

Jerk lamb and jerk lobster tail are among the pricier menu items, but Irie has other seafood to satisfy Caribbean cravings. Red snapper or the vinegary escovitch fried snapper are made to order, as are the jerk salmon and catfish.

The former Rookies and Fly Me to the Moon has been vacant since 2013, but the corner storefront has struggled with high turnover for years.

Three years ago, a group of developers sought to turn it into a barbecue joint called Whiskey Grill. The owner at the time said he was committed to investing $400,000 in renovations, but plans never came to fruition.

Irie Jerk Bar and Grill is serving up Jamaican food at 3404 N. Clark St.

Grossett felt he could add something to the Wrigleyville scene with his Jamaican recipes. Only a smattering of Jamaican restaurants exists in Chicago, although The Wild Hare nearby at 2610 N. Halsted St. provides some stiff competition.

Although there are bars aplenty in Wrigleyville, Grossett said he feels Irie will be a year-round attraction, even during the significant Cubs offseason lull.

"That's why I wanted to [focus on] food first," Grossett said. "If we have good food and drinks, people will want to be here all the time."

With Bob Marley art abound, Irie Bar and Grill opened in the heart of Wrigleyville just in time for the Cubs season.

Grossett is well-prepared to cook for large crowds after his work aboard a cruise ship and as head chef at the Jamaican Hilton Rose Resort, he said.

He also owned Life Life Tropical Island Cuisine & Juice Bar in Chatham, which closed seven years ago.

Grossett came to Wrigleyville for a fresh start with Irie. The restaurant currently can't serve alcohol while Grossett awaits his liquor license, but he plans to serve rum punch and other tropical drinks at the full-service bar.

Downstairs, the lounge area has a slightly more upscale vibe and can be rented out for small events. Upstairs, Grossett offers a catering menu and delivery through Uber Eats. 

Once Irie starts serving alcohol, it will likely be open until 2 a.m. weekends with a limited late-night food menu, Grossett said. The eatery will open at 11 a.m.

Irie Jerk Bar and Grill doesn't have its liquor license yet, but plans to serve tropical cocktails eventually.

Jamrock jerk tacos come with chicken, steak or shrimp.

Jamaican music is the norm at the new Irie Jerk Bar and Grill.