BELFAST — Two local men have opened Jamaican Grille, a Jamaican jerk takeout window, in the same building where The Harborwalk Restaurant and Front Street Pub are housed, but on the Harbor Walk trail side.

From food trucks that sell coastal Maine seafood items to food spots that offer dishes inspired by cuisine styles of various countries, downtown Belfast is home to an array of diverse and unique restaurants and food trucks. Jason Loblein and Tim Wry have added authentic Jamaican jerk to that roster.

Customers line up outside of Jamaican Grille’s takeout window Aug. 8 along the Harbor Walk. Photo by Kendra Caruso

When the opportunity presented itself to open a takeout window along the Harbor Walk in a building where Loblein’s sister co-owns a restaurant, the two jumped in with both feet, Loblein said.

Previously, they had sold their food out of a truck several years ago. But then life took them in different directions, so they sold the truck to the owner of Neighborhood restaurant before it became a restaurant. Now the Moody Dog operates out of that food truck.

“It’s been a snail for sort of Belfast businesses to grow into and move out,” Wry said. “A truck that takes everyone’s restaurant business into a restaurant business,” Loblein added.

Loblein has spent the last few years in California as a freelancer in graphic design and web development. Wry owns Wry designs, where he designs furniture and cabinetry.

The men’s connection to Jamaica developed early, with Loblein’s family owning a home in Long Bay since he was 5, he said. He used to spend part of the year there growing up and took to the food almost immediately. “It’s probably the first meal I ever cooked from the age of 5, I would say,” Loblein said. “I’ve been a foodie ever since.”

Loblein and Wry have been friends since they were young, meeting as students in the Belfast school district, Wry said. He used to pick up Loblein’s homework for him while he was in Jamaica. Then Wry started going on family trips with Loblein to the family’s Jamaican home, where he, too, fell in love with the food.

They have been on several trips to Jamaica to learn techniques and flavors from local jerk shack owners, they said. In Jamaica it is common to have several roadside or beachside jerk shacks where people are cooking over an open grill to entice people passing by.

Sourcing local Jamaican ingredients in Maine is difficult, so the two have a Jamaican friend send them local spices, Loblein said. They are working on ways to source other ingredients, like fresh coconut water.

Normally, Jamaicans would use a specific type of wood to smoke the meat and fresh products like coconut water straight from the coconut for rice, which adds to the authentic taste of the food, they said. But it can be difficult to find some of those products in Maine, so they are trying to work around those limitations to create a product with a taste that is still true to the cuisine.

The meat would normally be smoked over a grill, but the two use an electric smoker to streamline the process for production and make it easier to teach employees how to make the food. They want to develop a system that “eliminates human error,” Loblein said. But they refuse to sacrifice taste for efficiency.

Jamaican jerk is bold in flavor and the meat is supposed to be a little on the dry side, Loblein said. Chicken has been a clear favorite among customers so far, but they also offer ribs, mixed fruit, rice and a deep fried cornbread-like bread called festival. They also offer a Maine lobster version of jerk lobster, which is a little different from the spiney lobster consumed in Jamaica.

Tim Wry displays jerk ribs, rice and festival before serving it to a customer Aug. 8 at the takeout window along the Harbor Walk. Photo by Kendra Caruso

They opened the window in mid-July and are using this year to learn. They plan to modify their process next year based on what they discover this year, Wry said. They were able to hire one employee this year. Their reception has been good so far and some days they sell out in a matter of hours and have to close early.

Wry and Loblein hope to grow the takeout business into a storefront downtown, but are taking things slowly and waiting for the right opportunity to present itself, they said.

“So, we have our eye out, you know, we’re looking for a spot and … when the opportunity knocks, so we’re just trying to get ready so that when it does knock, we can jump on it when we need to,” Wry said. “A restaurant that size is going to take some money, so I know it could be a ways out, but for now this place works,” Loblein added.

The takeout window is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. along the Harbor Walk, behind Front Street Pub.

Photo by Kendra Caruso

 

Photo by Kendra Caruso

Photo by Kendra Caruso

Photo by Kendra Caruso

Photo by Kendra Caruso

Photo by Kendra Caruso