Reggae Grill holds court at jerk fest

Reggae Grill's rib plate/ Hanna Raskin

The South Carolina Reggae Jerk & Wine Festival, held yesterday at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, was supposed to feature music, dancing and a tournament-style jerk cook-off. While the music and dance proceeded as planned, the cook-off was canceled - possibly on account of the area's jerk specialists implicitly ceding the championship belt to Reggae Grill.

"We are the number one restaurant in Charleston right now," owner Devon Henderson, a native of Jamaica, said. "We put out the best."

Or, as the North Charleston restaurant's business card puts it, "the best of the best Caribbean food in South Carolina."

Reggae Grill was the only one of three vendors at the festival with an all-jerk menu. The other two food purveyors padded their menus with barbecue and French fries, and festivalgoers' admiration for Reggae Grill's single-mindedness was evident in line lengths. Around 3 p.m. -- when the jettisoned cook-off was supposed to start -- more than 25 people were queued up for Henderson's chicken and ribs, despite it taking about four minutes to tend to each customer.

At the restaurant, the oxtail is by far the bestseller, Henderson says. But he's equally proud of his curry bowls and the grilled meats that he was selling on Sunday, the restaurant's standard day off.

"We make our own seasoning, we make our own sauce," Henderson says. "We make everything from scratch."

That helps. But the practice that likely scared off pretenders to the crown was the overnight marinade. According to Henderson, too many jerk practitioners try to impress with heat (or, perhaps, hide their shortcomings behind it.)

"We don't do it spicy," Henderson says. "We do it moist."

Henderson isn't kidding. His ribs registered as smoky and juicy before the fine-tuned jerk spices came into focus, securing the aftertaste. Like the man said, "we put out the best."

If you missed the party, Reggae Grill is located at 4226 Rivers Ave. It's open every day but Sunday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. For more information, call 793-4859.