Take a Culinary Caribbean Vacation at Jamaican Jerk Pit

Visiting Jamaican Jerk Pit downtown Ann Arbor is like taking a culinary vacation to the Caribbean.

Owner of Jamaican Jerk Pit Robert Campbell shares an inside scoop of their history and culinary delights. Before Jamaican Jerk Pit, he owned Erie Caribbean Cuisine.

I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years, but over 20 years as an owner/cook,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s history as a chef and entrepreneur began early.

“Growing up in Jamaica, I always cooked for my family and friends,” Campbell said. “So it started at an early age. In my hospitality career, I’ve had many opportunities surrounding me. I worked in a resort in Jamaica, managed chefs and dining facilities at EMU during my time there, worked in food service and management at the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island, and also helped to serve athletes at various Olympic Games: Utah, Greece, Italy, and China. Even though I worked most of the time in the front of the house, I always took time to admire their culinary skills, as it was always a passion of mine also. I started a personal chef business while in college and received positive feedback which gave me the courage to propel forward with opening a restaurant. It started with the first restaurant Erie Caribbean Cuisine (Canton) and that led me to the opportunity to take over the Jerk Pit after the previous business closed.”

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Their current menu includes different kinds of Caribbean cuisine represented on the menu from Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago and Bahamas — but the focus is Jamaica.

“The most popular dishes include jerk chicken, curry goat and oxtail,” Campbell said. “These are the most popular dishes you will find in a Jamaican kitchen and they are unique to the culture, so those tend to be the favorites.”

We recently dined in and enjoyed not only the new remodeling but many Caribbean delights. We shared the chicken oxtail combo at medium spice level. It was out of this world in tenderness and flavor. That dish also comes with well-balanced peas and rice and a tangy slaw. We also ordered plantains, meat patties and Jamaican sodas, which were all wonderful accompaniments.

Campbell said they reopened the dining room on January 15 after some minor renovations over the past summer/fall.

“We missed the interaction and connection with the community,” Campbell said about the renovation’s closure. “We have a very diverse community that eats here. We have students and families of all ethnic backgrounds that visit us. That is a reason why we have numerous flags around the restaurant to represent a lot of the island cultures that are present in our community.”

Campbell is actually a native of Jamaica.

“Yes, I was born and raised in Jamaica,” Campbell said. “I’m the oldest of four children. I had the opportunity to come to the US in 1993 from a loving family that sponsored me. They helped me reach my potential and enrolled me at Macomb Community College. I was able to complete an Associate’s degree in Business Management there. I decided to further my education and received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Hotel Restaurant Management from EMU.”

The Jerk Pit even gets certain ingredients from Jamaica.

“We import various ingredients found in Jamaica to keep it as authentic as we possibly can,” Campbell said. “We use fresh ingredients from local vendors — like Eastern Market area. We make our own seasoning blends and Jerk Sauce from scratch daily.”

For the most part, many of their dishes are healthy.

“Yes, our dishes are very healthy, with exception to things that are deep fried,” said Campbell. “We make everything from scratch daily, with the exception of the beef/veg/chicken patties, coco bread and the French fries. We use very little oil and butter in our dishes.”

They are also family-friendly, while not having a kids menu, they have favorite kids enjoy such as French fries, shrimp, wings, plantains and burgers.

Campbell said that he loves what he does so it does not seem like work in some ways.

“People always ask, how do you work so many hours with no days off? I just tell them, when you are passionate about something, it’s not really work. I love seeing people enjoy our food and bringing them a taste of the Jamaican culture,” Campbell said.

Jamaican Jerk Pit. 314 S Thayer, Ann Arbor. 734-585-5278.