- Griffin Swartzell
- Don’t skip dessert! This mango and passionfruit cheesecake is a winner.
After months of delays, all under a Spice Island Grill sign installed early, owners Claudette and Greg Hutchinson finally opened their second location in March. They started with a soft opening, testing out systems they’d refined at their 9-year-old downtown location. All was going smoothly.
“We were planning the grand opening,” says Claudette. “We had a band ready and everything, and then a week later, BAM! COVID happened.”
As business dwindled, they had to lay off most of their staff and temporarily close their downtown location. But they kept their new Space Village location open, serving takeout, even when it was just the two of them. As Colorado began to reopen, they were able to draw regulars and a lunch crowd, building enough business up to hire a new team and work toward a liquor license, still in progress.
At lunch, Spice Island offers a variety of $10 specials. We opt for the jerk chicken sandwich, and while the pounded-thin chicken bears a good pepper heat, the cucumber, cherry tomatoes and lettuce blunt its spice flavors, though we have no real complaints about the generic hoagie roll. Side yuca fries, dusted with seasoned salt, do fine. It takes a little while to come together (as they’re still training their new staff), but it won’t kill a lunch break. Still, those in a great hurry should call ahead or opt for a patty, a Jamaican pocket pie. Its curry chicken bursts with ginger and turmeric, all in a sturdy yet flaky pastry.
We pick up two entrée plates for dinner: ackee and saltfish and jerk pork. The former’s a lovely mix of scrambled egg-like ackee, bits of salted cod, onions and bell peppers, a sound stir-fry mix that sees pepper tang, the creamy fruit and savory onions swimming in olive oil. We’re fans, but then we try the jerk pork, and our minds expand. Big slices of pork land stupid tender in that same spicy sauce from the chicken, this time unimpeded. A cornucopia of spices sings with the meat, with allspice and ginger standing out in the choir. We’re hungry for more just thinking about it.
Each entrée comes with two sides. Our fried dough Johnny cakes, tender but substantial, soak up the oily, spicy sauce the pork rests in. Mac and cheese bursts with cheesy flavor, as one would hope, with a picturesque stretch. Peas and rice do fine as a sauce-sop, as do yuca fries.
Don’t miss Spice Island’s desserts; they’re wonderful. A slice of toasted coconut cake has a not-too-thick, tangy frosting under a ton of coconut, maintaining moisture without sog. Their cheesecakes burst with Caribbean fruit flavors, each in a lovely, tender crust, soft and tangy. Bananas Foster cheesecake starts and ends with lightly caramelized banana flavor, with vanilla playing a perfect backup role. And while the passion fruit syrup on the passion mango cheesecake loses its tang and flavor to heavy sweetening, occasional bites of mango make the dessert pop.
While the Hutchinsons continue to train their staff and polish processes at the new space, their longevity downtown stands as a testament to the enduring quality of their well-made food. Whichever Island you visit, you’re at least guaranteed a good bite.