by Eric Ginsburg
It would be relatively easy to frequently pass by Uncle Desi’s without ever taking note. The Jamaican grill is far north in Winston-Salem, past Wake Forest University and beyond the busy intersection of North Point Boulevard and Cherry Street, occupying a seemingly unremarkable stretch of road before Cherry turns into Germantown Road.
It’s the kind of place that would be easy to accidentally drive past if you weren’t looking carefully, unassuming from the outside save for the Jamaican flag planted by the street. For more than six months, I’ve driven within a block of Uncle Desi’s Jamaican Grill, slinging papers every week at a nearby restaurant and a community rec center up the road. And I never noticed it.
It wasn’t until a friend at Wake Forest’s law school suggested I meet her at the restaurant — one of her mainstays — that I even heard of it. But Uncle Desi’s has been there, operating below the city’s radar except for a number of nearby students and folks in the know.
Hardly anyone who comes into the restaurant sits down to eat despite plenty of booth seating, preferring takeout instead. Regardless of the approach, diners order at the counter, though food is delivered to those who want to enjoy it on site. All the trappings of a Jamaican restaurant are there, from menu items including curry goat or oxtail to the bumping reggae music, and there’s even a large painting of the nation’s flag on a rear wall.
Uncle Desi’s delivers with dishes that are more flavorful than some of the direct competitors in the Triad, and some meals such as the jerk chicken automatically come with a healthy dose of spice. And the plate, with more than enough sauce to stir into the rice and beans, is served with three cuts of chicken, including a wing, bringing additional variety to the meal.
The great thing about curry is that each country where it’s common makes it slightly differently. Yellowed cuts of the curry fish, accompanied by cabbage and mixed vegetables, are every bit as delicious as they sound.
For my first experience at Uncle Desi’s I followed my friend’s lead, ordering the regular-size jerk fish — the large must be an unbelievably big portion. The smell on the ride home was overwhelming, accented by the curry chicken patty I threw in for the hell of it, tempting me to sit there in the restaurant’s parking lot and start chowing down.
My second time at Uncle Desi’s I meant to try something new, but just couldn’t help myself. Though I can’t speak to everything on the menu, the jerk chicken may be the best thing on there. Like the jerk chicken, it’s essential to have something to wash it down with, some sort of interlude between spicy and savory bites. I’ve tried wine at home and the restaurant’s sweet “famous” mango punch in house and each has its perks, but going without isn’t advised.
Uncle Desi’s claims to have the best jerk chicken in the Carolinas, an assertion I’m not about to argue with (and that’s true, in my experience), so when I vouch for the jerk fish and suggest it may be even better, that should mean something.
Visit Uncle Desi’s Jamaican Grill at 4604 Cherry St. (W-S) Tuesday through Saturday or find it on Facebook.