Here at Surrey Eats we like to shine a spotlight on the brighter side of Surrey’s underbelly by showcasing hidden gem restaurants you may not have heard of. And Tommies Jerk is so damn hidden it isn’t even on the map! At the dead-end industrial-zone cul-de-sac where 180th meets the train tracks at its southernmost tip in Cloverdale, there sits a small lone sandwich board further hidden by some festive Jamaican flag-coloured balloons. “JERK TACO HERE”. How does a jerk taco end up here? Do jerk tacos get down on their luck, just hopping trains to nowhere? And more importantly, where might I find one?? All I see is shipping containers and trains. Ahh, it’s to the right of the sign, in the rear parking lot of the Cloverdale Community Kitchen warehouse. Now that’s so hidden it barely even exists! But will Tommie’s Jerk qualify as a gem or is it Ja-fakin’?
When we arrived we were enthusiastically greeted by the whirlwind tornado that is Tai (nope, not Tommie; he named the restaurant in honour of his mother (cue the chorus of “awww!”s). Pictured here with a friend and staff member, Chicago native Tai risked it all to come to Canada for the love of one woman, but ended up falling in love with the entire country instead. Tai also spent some time in Jamaica helping out at various food stalls in exchange for the opportunity to soak up the techniques that would lead him to victory in a local cook-off.
Upon return to Canada, he further tested his skills against hordes of ravenous stoners at 4/20 in 2017. Tommie’s Jerk just set up an impromptu grill and fed some randoms, telling them to spread the word, which had them inundated with happy customers looking for the ultimate munchies cure. He’s still using this word-of-mouth marketing to hopefully propel Tommie’s Jerk into the spotlight.
I pounced on the Island Strawberry Lemonade ($3), a more environmentally friendly version of Jamaica’s bag juice phenomenon. Instead of coming in a standard plastic bag, this guy comes in a “Kiddy Yummy Squeezer” also known as “a sturdy reusable pouch with a zip-top”. So if your kids are diggin the island vibes you can keep the bag handy and recreate them back home with some simple Kool-Aid. Rather than just being sugar-syrup water though, Tommies Jerk’s bag juice comes with real chunks of fruit; in this case fresh strawberries. Perfect for a spring break picnic on this sunny Friday afternoon. All dining options are covid-friendly in keeping with our latest circuit breaker, so you can eat tailgate style in the parking lot, pull up a chair at the folding table, enjoy the community garden, or walk up to the nearby Kwantlen campus and enjoy one of their picnic tables. We chose the latter, although it was hard to resist the strains of “I Shot the Sheriff” wafting out of the kitchen along with the seductive scent of grilled meat.
Craig’s Peach Mango Tea ($3) was equal parts sweet and refreshing, and his Jerk Chicken Burrito ($11) gave a good bang for the buck. Make no mistake, Tommies Jerk is all about the meat, and plenty of it. Their beef and chicken is marinated for 48 hours before being grilled over charcoal and served piping hot for maximum pleasure. All dishes come with iceberg lettuce, carrot slivers, some Tex-Mex shredded cheese, and a side of peach mango salsa. The salsa has a fresh, sweet taste and pretty much zero kick so it will be safe for all comers. Simple and to the point, the toppings let the star ingredient shine: that sweet, smokey meat.
We also ordered a Jerk Chicken and Jerk Beef Taco ($7 each). At first I was disappointed that there was only one since they’re listed in plural on the menu, but once I bit into the taco I also bit my tongue (figuratively) and realized there was way more than three tacos worth of meat stuffed into the soft white flour tortilla. The charcoal was strong on the beef, which I went gaga over (none of that burnt taste like last week thank God), and I liked how they buried the cheese at the bottom so as not to get in the way of the glorious carnivorous eye-candy. The chicken wasn’t as grill-flavoured, but Craig said last week’s chicken had more charcoal essence to it. The beef was a tad spicier than the chicken as well although I think this can be made to order (extra spicy is listed as an option on their DoorDash). Expect a slow burn that dials up the temperature considerably albeit in a subtle manner, but doesn’t leave you with a five-alarm fire to put out at the end of your meal.
For those looking for something fun for the ‘gram, the Jerk Chicken Walking Taco ($7) is sure to get your followers’ appetites whet. A bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos with all the Tommies Jerk fixin’s, this is a perfect snack for students on the go. And with that Kwantlen campus up the street this is sure to be a hit with the college crowd. Tommies Jerk has only been open for a few weeks at this point and the current hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 12:00 to 8:00 PM, however Tai is in the process of hopefully hashing out some more weekday hours. Stay tuned to their Instagram feed for the latest news, including the upcoming launch of their scratch-made Jamaican patties which have us salivating in anticipation.
As to the final word, jerk is what Tai does and you really can’t beat his meat. Well, maybe Salam over at La Charcuterie could, but as much as I’d like to go there let’s keep it PG. That being said I did enjoy sniffing my fingers on the way home and feeling the gentle tingle on my lips while reminiscing on choking down that juicy charcoal chicken. If you’re up for adventure and make it out to try Tommies Jerk, don’t forget to tell ’em who sent you!