Jerk Hut gets cooler with bigger downtown quarters

Tampa's Jerk Hut Downtown Café will move to its new home on Franklin around early February.

click to enlarge NEW JERK CITY: Jerk Hut's soon-to-be location on Franklin Street. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
NEW JERK CITY: Jerk Hut's soon-to-be location on Franklin Street.

Jerk Hut’s cult-like followers have until early February to get their Caribbean food fix from the restaurant’s downtown café site at 207 E. Twiggs St. That’s when the venerable Tampa joint will relocate to a larger, red brick building between Twiggs and Madison.

Owner Andrew Ashmeade, who opened Jerk Hut Downtown Café more than 10 years ago, said he hopes the location, renamed as Jerk Hut Jamaica Tropicale, will become his flagship.

With more room at 513 N. Franklin St., the 5,000-square-foot space where Tun-Du-Ree used to be, Jerk Hut will feature an indoor and outdoor bar, live reggae, a carry-out window for late-night orders and an express lunch counter. The building’s remodeling phase is almost complete.

Ashmeade’s especially happy about the size of the kitchen, much bigger than what the downtown Jerk Hut has now.

“We’re super, super excited. The kitchen is awesome,” Ashmeade said, adding that he may move the restaurant’s catering services, which happen from the Fowler Avenue locale, to the newer, more central site.

Jerk Hut will serve up its full lineup of signature grub, as well as lighter options for the lunch crowd. The Reggae Bowl, the eatery’s take on a rice bowl, and more seafood dishes (think grouper and red snapper) will be among the menu items. A Sunday brunch will be offered, too.

For Ashmeade, a Jamaica native, it’s been about the food since the beginning, when Jerk Hut “started off in a little rock ‘n’ roll bar.”

While some ingredients, including the peppers, are flown in from destinations like Costa Rica, he said the rest of them arrive as fresh as possible. Ashmeade’s signature red sauce — sweet, tangy and served with his jerk chicken — is still made in house alongside other condiments.

“We’re trying to bring what we have from the islands here,” he said. “It can’t be more authentic than it is.”

And the drinks? Diners can expect tropical cocktail creations like mojitos, Dirty Bananas and, potentially, a sangria crafted with the restaurant’s house-made sorrel, a seasonal Jamaican beverage that’s spicy and tart.

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