Damian Clarke and Taneisha Young, the married owners of takeout spot Jammin Jamaican Cuisine, credit hard work, friends, family, neighbors, community and God with their success. But it all started with their cooking, a shared passion. They’d post meals on social media, where friends and family commented they should open a restaurant, an idea echoed by neighbors who smelled their fragrant home cooking.

When the pandemic hit, Clarke and Young took that idea off the back burner. They found a spot they liked in The Hill, and after all the paperwork, approvals and renovations, they opened Jammin Jamaican in October 2020. “It was a challenge,” Clarke says, but “that’s how I think we got our little break. People couldn’t go out, so they stick to their neighborhood, so it was the neighborhood first.”

During my visit, a steady stream of customers ordered from the options behind the display case. Walls painted black, yellow and green—the colors of the Jamaican flag, of course—somehow mirrored the friendly vibe of the staff, who are currently all family members. Over reggae and pop music, one customer told me his favorite was the Oxtail, while a staffer said her favorite was the Curried Goat. Packaged drinks including peanut, carrot and cucumber ginger punches were on offer in the refrigerator.

Clarke and Young chose to focus on Jamaican cuisine “because that’s my culture,” says Clarke, who moved to the US in 2000. “Preparation for Jamaican food is a lot of time and work,” he says, including the making of spice blends, marinades and sauces. They hope to eventually franchise and sell the latter; “everyone loves our homemade sauces,” Young says. “People want to sit and eat,” Clarke adds, so they are thinking about eventually moving to a larger space, but for now they’re concentrating on the food.

After I told them I’d already tried and enjoyed the Jammin Salmon—served with a subtle sweet and sour sauce studded with red, yellow, orange and green peppers—and Plantains, ordered via GrubHub, they loaded me up with other customer favorites to take home. My first bite of the Jerk Chicken, lightly sweet with kick and complexity, reminded me of childhood summer barbecues but better. Lured by the aroma, my daughter, who usually avoids chicken, ate an entire piece of the Fried Chicken, calling it “crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and delicious.” Also tender was the oxtail, which I had never tried before. Each entree came with a heaping side of white rice or Rice and Peas—spiced rice dotted with kidney beans, which I could happily eat by itself—and steamed vegetables: cabbage, carrots, green beans, scallions.

While customer favorites are always on the menu, some Jamaican specialties, like Goat Head Soup or Bammy, a gluten-free flatbread made from cassava, rotate on and off the menu. Specials are often posted on Facebook and Instagram, or you can call and ask.

In addition to their food, Clarke and Young are proud of the impact they’ve had on the community. “We have people who come in at the end of the night and we make sure that they eat,” Young says. “We come from a very poor country. We know how it is.”

And for those who haven’t yet been to Jammin Jamaican Cuisine, “Just come in and try our food,” she says. “We work really hard. We prepare our meals everyday, to give that best quality to our customers and give a little piece of our culture.”

Jammin Jamaican Cuisine
611 Washington Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Wed 11:30am-8pm, Thurs 11:30am-8:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-9pm
(203) 821-7938

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen. Image features the Jammin Salmon with an order of Plantains.

More Stories