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Comfort food and comforting vibes

Island Vybz hardly looks like a restaurant. It sits in a mostly residential strip of neighborhood, with just a small pizza place located a block away. Without the Jamaican flag sign emblazoned with their restaurant’s name, the establishment could be mistaken for another Baltimore row home. This homey aesthetic isn’t quite out of place, though, as Island Vybz makes you feel like you’re in a family kitchen.

When you first walk in, past the giant outdoor grill that smells of slowly grilled chicken, you wind up in a tiny kitchen. There are few seating options, but most customers seem to drop in and order their food to go. Nonetheless, hanging around at the counter and watching your food be prepared is a delight.

The cook of this family-owned business goes through the motions of preparing your food, all the while asking you at every step what you want. “Do you want cabbage with that? Is regular white rice fine or do you want rice with beans in it?” Having this level of communication with the person preparing your food right in front of your face not only gives you more control over your order, but it also makes you feel more in touch with the whole process.

Paul Oh for TRW

Island Vybz has a pretty tiny menu with a few Caribbean classics. For $7.50 or a buck more if you want a large, you can get an order of jerk chicken or curry chicken. They also have ox tail or curry goat for $9 per small, $10.50 per large and fish for $12. All of these come with a huge heaping of rice or cabbage on the side, left up to your discretion.

The food is made to order, but it’s well worth the wait. The guy behind the counter prepping all the food will shout to the grill guy, tell him how many orders of what he needs, and he starts grilling all your delicious food up.

The jerk chicken is Island Vybz’s classic dish — if you ask them what a first timer should try, that’s the typical response. They’ll serve you up a massive, whole roasted chicken wing covered in jerk spices. The chef will then drag one of these monstrous pieces of meat onto a chopping block and rips into it with a huge cleaver. It comes with a side of jerk sauce that trumps any fast food place I’ve ever eaten at, for a pretty similar cost.

The location lends a feel similar to Freddy’s BBQ Joint from “House of Cards,” and many regulars come for the atmosphere. The ox tail is a competing favorite among them, and orders regularly seem to split between either jerk chicken and ox tail, so that’s worth giving a shot as well. Still, though, I’d stick with the jerk chicken every day of the week.

I recommend you wander into Island Vybz with an open mind. Take a seat at the counter, talk to the guy making your food, chill out while listening to the relaxing reggae they often pump through their speakers, and watch “Family Feud” on their tiny, flickering television. It’ll make you feel right at home.