From Jamaica to Jonesboro: Brothers bring island flavors to Spicy Hill

A takeout feast from Spicy Hill includes jerk chicken, fried chicken and curry goat. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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A takeout feast from Spicy Hill includes jerk chicken, fried chicken and curry goat. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When Desrick Smith describes his Jamaican boyhood, it’s as if he’s remembering some lost paradise.

Every morning, you could walk down to the sea, and watch fishermen bring in catches of fish, lobster and conk. Traveling through the countryside, you’d find some of the best jerk chicken and pork imaginable, by the side of the road.

One of his fondest memories is a place where his mom’s family lived, called Spicy Hill. It was overrun with luscious mangos, soursop and naseberry, all there for the taking. You could chop pimento wood (allspice trees) for smoking jerk chicken the traditional way, a technique that deepens the peppery flavors.

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From the appetizer menu of Spicy Hill: akee-salt fish spring rolls and conk fritters. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

From the appetizer menu of Spicy Hill: akee-salt fish spring rolls and conk fritters. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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From the appetizer menu of Spicy Hill: akee-salt fish spring rolls and conk fritters. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When Desrick, 42, and his brother, Alrick, 41, opened their Jonesboro restaurant in January, they wanted to pay tribute to their heritage by naming it Spicy Hill. Just a year apart, the siblings always came as a package deal when they worked together growing up. Though their career paths diverged — Alrick worked as a baker for Disney Cruise Line; Desrick as a chef at Ritz-Carlton and Wyndham properties in Jamaica — the pandemic has brought them together again.

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Last year, after losing his job at the Georgia World Congress, Desrick found himself working alongside Alrick, then the executive chef of Negril ATL, a Caribbean restaurant on North Avenue. It was there that the two hatched plans for Spicy Hill, a project that allows them to put their own twists on the Jamaican food of their childhood.

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Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro, makes seriously good jerk chicken, served with buttery fried plantains, rice and peas and sautéed cabbage. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro, makes seriously good jerk chicken, served with buttery fried plantains, rice and peas and sautéed cabbage. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro, makes seriously good jerk chicken, served with buttery fried plantains, rice and peas and sautéed cabbage. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

“We have worked in every entity of the restaurant and hospital industry,” Desrick said. “Our expertise is so wide and so deep. We have good flavors. We have good taste buds. We know what the food should be like, look like, taste like.”

The Smiths may have their own personal cooking styles, but their new endeavor has required them to put their egos aside and build a menu that’s the best of both.

For their pasta dishes, they add jerk seasoning to cream sauce. Alrick smothers his fried chicken in a gently piquant tomato gravy, and serves it with coleslaw and festivals (a classic Jamaican fritter). Desrick invented a sweet-savory appetizer of spring rolls stuffed with ackee fruit and saltfish. For dessert, there’s bread pudding and traditional Jamaican rum cake.

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Alrick and Desrick Smith, brothers who grew up together in Jamaica and went their separate ways, have reunited to open Spicy Hill restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Alrick and Desrick Smith, brothers who grew up together in Jamaica and went their separate ways, have reunited to open Spicy Hill restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
Alrick and Desrick Smith, brothers who grew up together in Jamaica and went their separate ways, have reunited to open Spicy Hill restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After an April 2 grand opening, Spicy Hill will launch Saturday and Sunday brunch, featuring dishes such as island-style shrimp and grits; jerk chicken and pineapple-infused waffle; and caramelized banana French toast. The restaurant just received its liquor license, and a list of Caribbean cocktails is in the works.

When I called for takeout, I was greeted by a super-friendly voice that turned out to be Deon, Desrick’s wife and the general manager. After placing a rather lengthy order (an appetizer, a salad, three entrees, a side) she persuaded me that the spring rolls are a must, so I added that to the check.

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Customers enjoy a meal at the bar at Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Customers enjoy a meal at the bar at Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
caption arrowCaption
Customers enjoy a meal at the bar at Spicy Hill, a new Jamaican restaurant in Jonesboro. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

When I arrived a few minutes late, Deon teased me for being tardy, and, once I hit the road, she called to say the kitchen unintentionally had omitted my side of okra. (If only the other restaurants who’ve left out items were so mindful, or cared about food getting cold.) I turned the car around; Deon brought out the missing dish and told me she had thrown in some buttery, still-warm fried plantains.

Back home, it only took a single bite of jerk chicken with peas and rice to convince me that the Brothers Smith are the genuine article.

Reunited, and it tastes so good.

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SPICY HILL

Menu: Jamaican, with some modern twists

Alcohol: full bar

What I ordered: conch fritters; akee and saltfish spring rolls; island-style greens (salad); jerk chicken, curry goat and fried chicken plates; side of okra. Everything was fresh, delicious and beautifully presented; I was especially crazy about the jerk chicken and the fried chicken. I enjoyed the fritters and spring rolls, but they’re the sort of thing best eaten straight out of the fryer. The festivals, which are made with a pinch of warm spice, aren’t really my thing with a savory meal, but they’re wonderful to snack on, after the fact.

Service options: dine-in; takeout; delivery via Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash

Outdoor dining: no

Mask policy: required for staff; encouraged for guests

Address, phone: 1544 Tara Road, Jonesboro; 678-489-8412

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays

Website: spicyhillrestaurant.com

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