By Sarah Freeman | Zagat.com
Everything about this truck is slightly terrifying. It rolls up with a black exterior. It is packed with a crew of four to six people; each member has more tattoos than the last. Suddenly, there is reggae music playing. “Are we still on the streets of Chicago?” we wonder while hesitantly join the line of dozens of people (it can reach a hundred on a busy day). Then this smell hits – charred meat and apple pie. No, not pie, allspice. Nothing about this truck makes sense, but one bite of the Jamaican jerk chicken with a side of jerk fries and the pieces come together. It is a brand – the Island meets the city led by a Jamaican immigrant with dreams of opening a food truck. The man is Dion Solano and his truck is called Jerk.
The dream started small. Solano craved the pushcart cuisine he grew up with in Jamaica. When he moved off the Island in high school, he started making jerk sauce with for his friends. Cooking was just a hobby for Solano, who had no intention of opening a food truck or restaurant, but sought the flavors of his home country while working in the video game industry. Solano was about to move to San Francisco when everything changed and the laws shifted in Chicago. He saw a chance to cook the cuisine of Jamaica in a smaller capacity than a restaurant. With help from co-founder Brett Gough, the Jerk truck was born.
Solano specially ordered his truck from a company in New York City – we hear they know a thing or two about food trucks over there. It is the first in Chicago to feature a commercial grade kitchen with a grill and deep fryer fueled by propane. The truck started serving in mid-March and not only frequents the food truck stand downtown, but visits neighborhoods, festivals and serves late night in Wicker Park. During the trucks first two months in operation, Jerk developed a serious following of regulars. So much so that Solano’s dreams changed. First, he wants to be the official food truck of the Chicago Bulls, second, he wants to acquire a second truck and finally, he wants to open a restaurant.
“We are selling an experience,” Solano said. “The menu is very much my childhood.” Traditional jerk chicken is slow roasted over wood and covered with piece of metal roofing for about two hours. The cuisine on the truck is purposely not authentic. It is street food – tender meat and addictive fries as well as festival, a fried sweet cornbread fritter imported directly from Jamaica. Sodas such as Champagne Kola, grapefruit soda and ginger beer are also imported. A secret menu item combines a bit of everything on the truck. It is called the Jerk boss special and is Jerk chicken and fries covered in ranch dressing. Later, Solano plans to expand the menu to offer jerk fish and Portobello mushrooms all marinated in his signature Rude Boy sauce.