A creative take on traditional Jamaican food in a cozy neighbourhood setting on Commercial Drive's south side
To simply say the Jamaican Pizza Jerk is a hidden gem wouldn’t quite be accurate. Sure, few Vancouverites living outside the neighbourhood along Commercial Drive south of Broadway have likely ever heard of it, but for its neighbours—particularly those of Caribbean descent and, surprisingly, vegans—the Jamaican Pizza Jerk is a regular haunt.
Jamaican Pizza Jerk
2707 Commercial Dr, Vancouver
Located on the block between 11th and 12th Avenues, the darkened storefront gives way to a warm, inviting interior where a diverse cross-section of the city’s residents can be found eating amidst posters of Jamaican heroes and knick-knacky island fodder.
The owner, Chef Bounty, himself a Jamaican expat, fills the space with his gregarious yet gracious manner, talking up customers on issues of the day, island politics, food history and neighbourhood gossip—all the while preparing a fusion of the dishes from his homeland and creations from his own imagination.
Video: Meet Chef Bounty
With a love for quality ingredients and a penchant for
improvisation, Chef Bounty is in his element when in the
Pizza Jerk specialties
Specialties of the house include traditional dishes, like oxtail, cowfoot, and saltfish and ackee—the national fruit of Jamaica and nicknamed “poor man’s eggs” for its uncanny resemblance to scrambled eggs (the irony of this, as Chef Bounty points out, is that he must pay several times the price of a carton of eggs for one can of ackee here in Vancouver).
Of the chef’s many loyal customers, it is the vegans who are perhaps most ardent, as most of the menu items are either already vegan or can be easily made sans animal products. But it is the pizzas that bring them back.
Chef Bounty uses only non-dairy cheese—“My non-vegan customers usually don’t even notice!”—sprinkling it over some very interesting ingredients. Order from the house pizza menu—which includes the Bob Marley (with broccoli, carrots, zucchini and cauliflower in jerk sauce), the Peter Tosh (callaloo, spinach, onions, scotch bonnet and chayote squash) and the Hawaiian Veggie (veggie ham and pineapple) to name a few—or mix and match to create your own. Or, even better, tell Bounty to get creative and make up a one-of-a-kind pizza just for you.
“I love being creative in the kitchen,” says Bounty, a trained chef. “I like to try and experiment with different flavours—it’s fun!”
That love for experimentation can lead to some pretty unique dishes. One of his newer inventions is the well-named Irie Bowl; part pot pie, part pizza pie, this muffin-shaped meal in one envelops a delicious assortment of the chef’s special ingredients into a pizza dough crust—resulting in a kind of Caribbean calzone.
Local, organic and non-GM ingredients
But the real hallmark of this eclectic little restaurant is the ingredients. The chef chooses organic when possible, local when available (he had farmers in the Fraser Valley and East Vancouver growing callaloo, thyme and garlic—and more next year), and is strict about preventing any genetically modified (GM) foods from entering his kitchen.
Too, his extended network of friends, customers and fellow restaurateurs provide another source for ingredients and food stuffs. For example, the dough for the celiac-friendly spelt pizza crust he offers is made by The Spelt Bakery, also located in East Van, on Hastings.
“I could easily make the dough myself,” he says, “but I’m happy to buy it from [owners Janet Féirín and Christine Hedbaut] if it supports a local business.”
A regular, I’ve introduced several people to the Jamaican Pizza Jerk and all have gone on to become regulars themselves. The food, the culture and Bounty himself make this a “hidden gem” worth uncovering.