Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 8/21/17
If you are one of the many people that call Monroe your home — at least from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at one of the township’s many corporate complexes — you’re probably aware that the local dining options are a bit lacking.
However, Simply Jerk Jamaican Grill, a quaint counter-serve eatery that can seat about 30 people in its colorful, tropical digs, is known as a roadside diamond in the rough with its authentic Jamaican cuisine run by the White family.
“It’s kind of a cultural wasteland here, and for many people, this is their first time having Jamaican food in the States,” said Rahsheid White, vice president of marketing and business development at Simply Jerk who lives in Howell and is son of owner Newell White and executive chef Eleith White, who live in Millstone.
With meals that range from $6.50 to $10.95, a visit to Simply Jerk isn’t only an affordable choice, it’s a tasty one — some of their favorite items include their renowned jerk chicken, which includes vegetables and rice or festival, which is similar to a hush puppy, as well as the soft, buttery coco bread or the jerk fish, jerk shrimp and curry shrimp dishes.
But don’t get nervous about heading to Simply Jerk if the last time you had Jamaican cuisine you were left running for the nearest water tap — Simply Jerk is known for their more modern, flexible take on Jamaican fare.
“People have left other Jamaican restaurants after burning the roof of their mouth or with sweating foreheads, so spice is a major concern when they walk through our doors,” said White.
“But we understand that we have to cater to the American palette without sacrificing the authenticity, so we give options where we can make items more mild or spicy.”
White said that, in his opinion, many other Jamaican restaurants are “somewhat archaic” in how they conduct their eateries and they’re not interested in changing times. However, Simply Jerk’s innovative flair has also received some push-back.
“We had one guy say we were ‘too clean’ to be a real Jamaican restaurant,” said White with a laugh. “There are always going to be those people, and that’s fine. You can go to certain other eateries if you want sub-par food, but we are going to stick by our concept.”
At Simply Jerk, everything is made fresh by Eleith White, and Rahsheid White said that everything she cooks is made with love and care, even a task as simple as patting each individual lettuce leaf dry after washing.
Customers probably couldn’t guess that Eleith White has no formal culinary experience — after moving to the United States in 1978, she worked for Atlantic Bank, but her holiday cooking was always a huge hit.
So, in 1988, she and husband Newell White, who worked as an electrical engineer, took a leap and opened the Green Grotto and, later, Jamaican Delight, in New Brunswick.
Following a long battle as New Brunswick sought the property to be used as space for redevelopment, the White family left the city’s restaurant scene in 2003 and opened Simply Jerk in 2014.
So what made them want to re-enter the restaurant industry after 11 years of semi-retirement?
“Because they’re Jamaican and they can’t sit still,” said White.
Now that Simply Jerk pulls in 300 weekly guests in their modest space, they are looking to expand in the future. Now, they are looking to hire those with at least one year of experience for the positions of customer service associate, kitchen associate and kitchen crew member.
If you are interested in applying, you can fill out an application at Simply Jerk or visit simplyjerkjamaicangrill.com/Info-Career.
You can also check out Simply Jerk at the second annual Caribbean Festival on Aug. 26 from noon to 6 p.m. at Boyd Park in New Brunswick, where visitors can see live reggae performances, eat authentic Caribbean food and enjoy activities for adults and kids.
In the meantime, those in Monroe looking to have something a little different than the norm of pizza and Chinese can stop by Simply Jerk for a real Jamaican meal — no plane ticket required.
“I haven’t had one person say that it wasn’t the best meal they have ever had,” said White.
Simply Jerk Jamaican Grill
Where: 891 Cranbury South River Road #103, Monroe
Cost: $6.50 to $10.95 for a meal