On Monday night, friends of Hawthorne Street gathered for our first annual PLG Jerk-Off, a blind taste test of jerk chicken from six neighborhood joints.
The taste test was not without its shortcomings, but I'll say more about those in a moment. Twelve tasters cast votes for the winners, with two vegetarians, two infants, and one cat serving as spectators. One of the vegetarians, Alexandra, arranged to conceal the sources of the chicken (right) and tabulated the results.
HAMMONDS BAKERY & JERK CENTER (gmap)
The chicken with the highest rating by a substantial margin. There is, however, a noteworthy caveat: Hammonds was the last to arrive; we got it 1.5 hours after Peppa's, Blessed Delight, and Exquisite, and nearly an hour after the other two, which may have skewed the results somewhat. Still, a clear crowd pleaser. Comments: Succulent with a hint of cinnamon; starts off mild with a peppery finish; good buttery meat with nice blend of spices; tender; fell off the bone; spicy
CITY JERK (gmap)
Sweeter than most, mildly spicy with a bit of a BBQ flavor; juicy. (City Jerk, however, loses community relations points for lancing a street tree on Flatbush to hang its sign.) This came as quite a shock to Hawthorne Street, as the one time we went to City Jerk ourselves, we found the chicken dry and disappointing.
Mild; BBQ flavor; sweet. While two voters ranked Doogies their #1 favorite, three people cited it as the worst ("too sweet").
BLESSED DELIGHT (gmap)
The least favorite by far. Four people nominated it as the worst, and almost all of them said the same thing: dry and flavorless.
Culpepper's (map), known for its excellence, was out of jerk chicken when we went by at 7:30 (a fact that is perhaps revealing in itself). We also intended to include Islanders but, alas, got our signals crossed and it fell through the cracks.
What would we do differently? Next time we'll break Jerk-Off into two or three nights of taste-testing and concentrate each night on only 3 choices. That way, tasters can eat a decent chunk of meat from each selection rather than nibbling. Tasting different small pieces—a bit of white meat from one tray; a chunk of dark meat or skin from another—doesn't allow for consistent judging. Several dishes, for example, had an equal number of people describing them as dry and moist; as spicy and mild. If we had eaten larger pieces from each tray, this might have been less of a problem.
The early pick-ups Peppa's and Blessed Delight both suffered from dryness while Hammond's, the last to arrive, tasted fresh. As a frequent patron of Peppa's, I know that they got screwed. Exquisite held up very well for having been picked up as early as it was; unlike any of the other restaurants, the chicken rests in sauce in the store and has sauce spooned into the takeout container. Next time we'll be more careful about making sure the chicken is picked up at the same time and promptly tasted. Or maybe we'll turn Jerk-Off into Parade of Jerks, where the tasters go from store to store and eat in.
As a final note, I should perhaps correct my previous comment about the cat serving as spectator. After everyone had left for the evening, said cat—having been excluded from the tasting—returned to her feral ways and tore open the kitchen garbage bag, spreading refuse across the floor in order to get at the few remaining scraps of meat. Serves her owners right.