A touch of Jamaican in the neighborhood

All Joan Clarke needed was an unsuccessful attempt to find an authentic Jamaican beef patty to get her adventurous mind working. And after dreaming one night about a vacant storefront, she and husband Tony stumbled on the perfect location where they could serve those beef patties along with an abundance of mouth-watering Caribbean cuisine.

Jamaican Inn opened in April of 2010 at 4196 Mariner and remains one of only a few restaurants in the area that features island fare. Tender, flakey beef patties may have been the staple food that brought Jamaican Inn to Spring Hill. Indeed the melt in your mouth pastry wrapped around seasoned beef is a taste that brings customers in and keeps them coming back. But it is only a small part of the experience this quaint little restaurant has to offer.

When you think Jamaica, you think of a culture that is laid back and content, dominated by an intimate relationship with food, family, community and music.

Jamaican Inn portrays that stereotype by capturing an atmosphere bursting with tradition.

The music is Caribbean-based, piped through speakers that play gently in the background. The ambiance embraces traditions through pictures, capturing the passion of the islands.

Tony Clarke greets customers from behind a counter that displays freshly prepared meat patties and ripe plantains, enticing visitors to “feel” the experience from the moment they enter. Clarke’s enthusiasm is infectious as he insists that every first timer try a sample of the food.

“The sample is free,” he stressed. “You don’t have to buy unless you like it.”

Tony isn’t worried about reaching those familiar with the culture. “They already come in,” he said, “because they know the food.” Rather, he wants to appeal to those who might be skeptical. He is confident they would return once they experienced the value, atmosphere, variety and hospitality.

Maryellen Everson and her family stumbled on the restaurant during a recent visit to Spring Hill. She and husband, John, daughter Crystal, and granddaughter Trinity came in looking for a “meat pie” she had tried in Connecticut.

“They were really, really good,” Maryellen remembered.

Within minutes of getting settled at a table, Tony brought a sample plate and four spoons. And after tasting various foods, the family ordered based on the samples.

It would be difficult to find something on the menu that doesn’t positively touch the pallet. A range of delicious varieties of specially seasoned, hand-made and gently simmered choices provide something for every preference.

Staple favorites of the islands include Jerk chicken, pork and ribs and curried goat, chicken and shrimp.

But other amazing yet less common specialties include oxtail, achee or callaloo (two iconic Caribbean vegetables) & saltfish which is delicately seasoned cod. The dishes are authentically spiced and served on a bed of rice and beans and steamed vegetables. The combination of flavors is remarkable.

Yet the choice always belongs to the customer, Tony said. “They can have what they want.”

While Island fare is the specialty, Jamaican Inn does offer traditional American diner favorites like hamburgers, hot dogs, baked chicken and chicken breast nuggets served with sides.

But it’s as much about the aura in the restaurant as the food they prepare daily. The Clarkes are truly grounded in family tradition. Tony runs the front with his warm and endearing personality. Joan works behind the scenes, preparing the food with her loving hands. And their two children, Dwaine, 24, and Jade, 19, fill in wherever needed.

You can’t miss the strong connection between Tony and Joan, born from a deep tradition and nurtured through more than twenty years of teamwork.

Born in Jamaica, the couple met in England as teenagers where they attended school. They married, had four children, and moved to the states.

The family operated an ice cream truck in Maryland where they added Jerk chicken to offset the ice cream varieties. It became so popular with customers that Joan remembered receiving calls regularly if the truck was running late through its regular neighborhoods.

They moved to Spring Hill five years ago to care for Joan’s ailing parents. It was there she dreamed of the vacant storefront, the vision that sparked this journey.

Jamaican Inn is open Monday through Saturday, 11a.m. until 9 p.m. They cater to the lunch crowd, where diners can be in and out in as little as 20 minutes, or the dinner crowd. They offer breakfast meals by request. There is also a full takeout menu.

Biz at a Glance

Name: Jamaican Inn

Location: 4196 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill, FL 34609

Telephone: 352-835-7119

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