Dining review

Jazz’s Island Soul brings spicy Caribbean fare to Columbia

For Howard Magazine

After she almost died during a surgery to remove a cyst the size of an orange, Sherry Arrington was laid up for six months. It gave her time to re-evaluate her life — and realize that she wanted to have her own restaurant.

Arrington, a former food manager at Sodexo, opened Jazz’s Island Soul in February in Columbia, where she cooks Caribbean soul food in an intimate, softly lighted setting that often hosts jazz groups.

The fusion cuisine blends Arrington’s favorite ingredients. “I’m from the South,” says the Army veteran, who lives in Glen Burnie. “I like seasoning.”

Many dishes are spicy, but not overly so. We were glad the kitchen didn’t tone it down and chose to keep the true nature of its dishes.

We started our island food fling with zesty Jamaican-style beef patties (you can also get chicken or vegetable fillings). The crust is flakier than you might find traditionally, more like a crispy phyllo, but the result was delicious. Each patty was cut into two triangles and was sizeable enough to share. If you have a large party, you can order two or three for the table.

Another starter — three fish tacos — could serve as a meal. Coated with jerk seasoning, the flavorful fish was tucked into flour tortillas (one of which was inexplicably oily) with lettuce and julienne vegetables, with chopped tomatoes and a zingy salsa on the side.

The restaurant is BYOB without a corkage fee (it has applied for a liquor license), and there is a nearby liquor store if you want to go that route. Wine glasses are provided. It also offers various lemonades, including a classic version that can be enhanced with fruits like mango and strawberries.

Jazz’s Island Soul is joining an increasing number of restaurants that are serving brunch or breakfast all day. Chicken and waffles with the restaurant’s signature rum syrup is a staple on the menu. Several omelets are also offered.

We’ll go back another time for those dishes. On our visit, we stuck with the entree choices.

The jerk chicken — a popular dish, our attentive waitress told us — lived up to our expectations. A succulent chicken breast and leg, massaged with a kick-in-the-tongue jerk seasoning, practically shed its meat on its own.

The dish is served with moist cornbread and your choice of two sides. The collard greens would have been terrific if they hadn’t been so salty, but the rice and peas combo was great, made with kidney beans just like it should have been.

A staff member suggested we order the jambalaya, and we are glad we followed his excellent advice. The Creole concoction, loaded with blackened chicken, shrimp, andouille sausage and red and green pepper slices, was impressive.

Diners can choose a mild or spicy preparation. We chose the latter and weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t fiery, just imbued with enough tingling tastes to excite the palate.

The restaurant was out of peach cobbler the night we visited, but offered apple bread pudding, chocolate and lemon cakes as well as banana pudding, our choice.

The velvety, thick mixture was presented in a parfait glass with fresh vanilla wafers strewn throughout the blend. It was a calming, pleasant finish after a savory meal.

The only quirky thing about the restaurant is finding it. It’s tucked into a passageway in the Harper’s Choice Village Center without signage out front.

Your best bet is to look for the Dunkin’ Donuts in the shopping center and park there. As you walk toward the stores, you’ll see the enclosed sidewalk that leads to the restaurant.

It’s worth the search. Arrington has found a way to nurse herself back to health in the restaurant kitchen. We’re happy to take part in the cure.

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At a Glance

Jazz’s Island Soul

5485 Harpers Farm Road, Columbia

410-715-6929, jazzislandsoul.com

 

The vibe: Low lights, polished surfaces and live music create an approachable bistro setting. The jazz groups that play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings (8 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and at Sunday brunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) add a sophisticated flair. At times, the cozy venue feels like a neighborhood carryout as customers pick up their orders in plastic bags.

You’ll fit in wearing: Casual attire.

Don’t miss: The jambalaya. The portion is generous, and the delicious dish is a bargain for $18.95.

Best for kids: There is a children’s menu for those 12 and younger. It includes entrees like chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese with a choice of a beverage and an ice-cream sundae. The kid’s chicken and waffles is the way to go.

Reservations: Accepted.

Price range: Appetizers, $2.95-$11.95; entrees, $10.95-$21.95.

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