The Jerk at D's 

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A heaping helping of D’s seafood: catfish strips, a shrimp po boy, and jambalaya.

D’s Seafood,
Jerk & More
4403 Rittiman Rd.
653-9066
11am-8pm Tue-Sat
Credit cards
Entrées: $4.99-$13.99
Accessible
D’s Seafood, Jerk & More does happy food. Not to be confused with the (trademarked) Happy Meal, it’s simply food that makes you feel good. Much of this has to do with the cheery service, the homey feel of the place — faux flowers and all, the hearty handshake of the chef, the wide-ranging and utterly unpretentious menu … and, of course, one’s willingness to go with the flow. Some things won’t be available (though calling ahead can help), and your order may not come out in precise courses, but none of this matters. Turn off the cell phone. Relax. You’re getting hungry …

Southern seafood, Jamaican jerk, and Cajun-Creole dishes form the core of the menu at D’s. There’s little that qualifies as an appetizer with the exception of the wings of both jerk chicken and alligator. There’s something poetically prehistoric about the notion of alligator “wings,” but they actually come from the leg of the critter, not any vestigial avian apparatus: dark meat versus the tail’s white meat, we were told. They’re also sporadically available, so if you encounter them, let me know what you think. The jerk wings may not have boasted the overt allspice and scotch-bonnet chile of the chicken I’ve had in Jamaica, but thyme, low-key heat, and complexity were in evidence and no blue-cheese dip is required — though a squeeze of the provided lemon doesn’t hurt. We would have had them with the dense Jamaica hard (or hardo) bread, but, as “it doesn’t keep well,” it’s currently made on a day-ahead request basis. Let me know about this one, too.

The gumbos might have arrived before the wings. I don’t really recall, and it didn’t really matter; we were already passing everything around, and the game was beginning to get good. The seafood version wasn’t available (though you can order this one ahead — way ahead), but after tasting both the smoked-turkey and signature Creole iterations, that didn’t matter, either. The Creole is as light and delicate a rendition as you’re likely to have had, characterized as much by what it doesn’t contain (an assertive roux, lots of file powder, okra …) as what it does (shrimp, sausage, shredded chicken ... the shrimp, our winning waitress confided, added at the last possible moment so as not to get rubbery with long cooking.) The smoked-turkey version omitted shrimp but sported sausage and corn, was thicker (though still not dominated by dark roux) and, naturally, smoky. We liked them both equally, which is to say quite a lot.

At some point, red beans and rice also appeared on the table. Good, straightforward stuff, with more sausage. There was some cameo cornbread — from a mix, we decided. At some point, a side of coleslaw made itself known; it was crisp, rough-cut, and bathed in a creamy dressing that might even have been inspired by Miracle Whip but worked regardless. A side-order-sized plate of spicy grilled shrimp materialized and was deemed pleasingly piquant plus perfectly cooked. Then the seafood platter, heaped with cornmeal-coated catfish strips and popcorn-sized battered crayfish tails. Still up to the challenge, we plunged right in. The tiny tails are addictive with the house-made tartar sauce, but the catfish, delicate and without a whisper of grease, is the revelation; it’s rarely a favorite, but here it ranked right up with the jerk pork that was still to come.

Or almost. With some prodding, our affable chef admitted that the pork was less knee-jerk jerk than the chicken, and he was right on target. Perhaps due to both longer marinating and cooking, the pulled pig was lustier than the chicken wings and conjured up jerk shacks all around the island nation. Tropical rice and fried plantain were its plate mates, and if the plantain was bland (it was), the rice was totally over the top. Spangled with bits of pineapple and redolent of creamy coconut milk, it was cha-cha, samba, and rhumba all rolled into one. But wait, there’s more to come.

Namely jambalaya. Notably, one of the lightest, dare I say fluffiest, jambalayas I have ever experienced. Sausage, chicken, smoked ham hock, and sliced scallion were the main players and they played very well together. Our chef thereby demonstrated that he does have a light hand when required, but he’s not the only one who can cook. Cheery waitress offered that the sweet-potato pie was her contribution to the menu, so of course it became obligatory — though far from a dutiful, family chore. (By this time, the evening read like a reunion of long-lost friends.) Her sweet-potato base was topped with a pecan, brown sugar, and butter topping, and its richness played beautifully against the delicate
chiffon.

There’s a lunch menu at D’s with smaller portions and prices, and on Saturdays, chef makes beignets “from scratch.” On Sundays it seems he makes a joyful noise, as double doors open up into an adjoining space and the place becomes a church with chef as pastor. To one who’s tempted to think of food as a kind of religion and the kitchen as a shrine of its own special sort, the move from beignets to benedictions seems altogether appropriate.


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