In many fine-dining restaurants, chicken often plays second fiddle; it's usually outshone by an expensive cut of beef, an imported fish, or the mighty lobster. We're just as guilty as most diners in our tendency to brush off chicken dishes at such locations. Anthony Bourdain once wrote, "Chicken is boring ... chefs see it as a menu item for people who don't know what they want to eat."
But in the right hands, and when given the proper attention, chicken takes on a more dignified role. And so it is at a cozy little chicken shack just south of downtown called Jerky's Spicy Chicken and More.
As advertised, Jerky's specializes in jerk-rubbed chicken and features it in a number of settings on its menu. We started with the chicken and ribs combo plate ($13.99). The chicken is seasoned with a proprietary blend of spices that gives the chicken a wonderful herbaceous and spicy flavor. Then it's smoked over hickory. The white meat chicken we sampled was tender, juicy and easily sliced through with the edge of a fork. Our meal came with a few slices of bread, and we proceeded to stuff a few forkfuls of jerk chicken between the slices, creating wonderful makeshift sandwiches (you can also order the chicken chopped on a sandwich if you prefer to take the easy route). It was clear to us why the smoked jerk chicken is the star of this establishment.
The accompanying pork ribs were fair but had a texture issue. These were smoked a little too quickly and tended to be a bit tough and chewy, requiring a tad too much force to rip from the bone. But they were, at least, juicy with a decent flavor, being seasoned with that same house jerk seasoning. We were quite pleased with the provided barbecue sauce, however. This was a thin, vinegar-based concoction, which added a nice, slightly sweet and tangy note to the spicy chicken and ribs. We would have gladly taken a bottle home for later.
The jerk fried chicken plate ($6.99) was less successful than its regular smoked variety. The bird was given an excessively thick and chunky coating that was reminiscent of a boxed stovetop stuffing mixture. The underlying meat was good, but we preferred it without the crust.
Jerky's also offers a few basic burger options, but you can also grab a "jerk burger" ($5.25) that comes seasoned and spiced in that same aforementioned jerk seasoning. We did get a nibble of the turkey burger ($6.25) and found it reasonably tasty if uninspiring. Turkey burgers, again, may be ordered "jerked," if you please, and we slightly regret not going this route with our sandwich choice.
Our meals were accompanied by a number of side dishes, all of them passable but none that deserve particular mention here. We did enjoy the spicy paprika-flavored fries, even if they were clearly of the bagged and frozen variety. We were pleased to end the meal with the bourbon glazed bread pudding off the dessert menu. It was sweet, creamy and laced with cinnamon and brown sugar.
Jerky's features both a sit-down dining room for those wanting to take their time at lunch and a take-out window for those on the run. And while our experience was rather hit or miss overall, we'll likely be back to Jerky's to nab a quick chopped jerk chicken sandwich.
Jerky's Spicy Chicken and More
2501 S. Arch St.
Jerky's bills itself as Little Rock's first and only "Jamerican" joint. So expect to find exactly that — a smattering of Jamaican spices spread across commonly found American foods. Burgers, fries and chicken all get a spicy upgrade here. The portions are sizable and the prices are generally low, which makes it an excellent spot for a quick lunch any day of the week.
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Beer, credit cards accepted.