Stone’s Jamaican Roots & Juice food truck offers owner a new start
This review has been a long time in coming — almost a year to the date that will forever scar the Rogue Valley.
The Almeda fire burned Stone’s Jamaican Roots & Juice less than two months after the business relocated to Talent from San Rafael, Calif. My story of owner Strickland Stone’s traditional Caribbean fare was submitted for publication in the Mail Tribune when the year’s defining story rendered it irrelevant. As the Sept. 8 wildfire swept from Ashland through Talent headed for Phoenix, Stone’s was among thousands of buildings reduced to scorched rubble.
But like many entrepreneurs and residents who lost everything, Stone raised his livelihood from the ashes. A food truck unmistakably adorned with the colors of Jamaica’s flag and unveiled in June is the new home of Stone’s iconic jerk and other island dishes.
This mobile eatery hardly seems like a compromise as Stone continues to refine his menu and cater so many special events that he can be hard to pin down. When my partner and I finally caught up with Stone’s, the food was even better than we remembered.
I hoped to try Stone’s oxtail, only to hear the dish was sold out by dinnertime, along with jerk salmon. So my partner and I sampled the two remaining dishes: classic jerk chicken and ackee and vegetables, which resembles a stew, Stone said. Each dish cost $14, including sides of coleslaw, fried plantains and rice and peas
Jamaica’s national fruit, ackee is related to lychee and longan fruits and was introduced to the island from West Africa in the late 1700s. Commonly canned, the fruit is said to have a texture like scrambled eggs. Although it’s an appealing form of plant-based protein, ackee often accents salt cod in the national dish of Jamaica. And to think so many assign that distinction to jerk.
Speaking of jerk, I learned last year after dining at Stone’s brick-and-mortar establishment that the term doesn’t reference only seasoning. Jerk more accurately is a method for dry-rubbing bone-in chicken or pork pieces — or immersing them in wet marinades — then cooking slowly over charcoal.
Roadside stands across Jamaica serve this dish synonymous with the island, where the cookery of natives mingling with former slaves in the 1600s gave rise to Jamaica’s unique jerk, according to culinary historians.
Stone’s makes jerk approachable for the uninitiated, and there were even fewer bones to contend with than the version we tried a year or so ago. Relying less on hot chiles than some jerk, Stone’s achieves a smoky, charred exterior redolent of the allspice that’s a critical component, often with coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg. Diners craving more burn, however, only have to dip a bit of meat into Stone’s accompanying sauce for an intensely spicy, savory sensation with an acid punch and whiff of sweetness more pleasing on my palate than American barbecue sauces.
A surprising vehicle for spice, the rice boasted superb texture, interspersed with kidney beans in place of the Caribbean’s beloved pigeon peas. I was compelled to keep eating that rice, its heat building with every bite, long after I was full. I’d make a point to visit Stone’s just for that humble staple.
Also humble in its presentation and preparation, the ackee and vegetables far surpassed my expectations. A study in yellow and green, the stew incorporated several vegetables — celery and bell pepper — that I rigorously try to avoid.
But the flavors and crisp-tender textures that I typically can’t abide in peppers and celery were so spot-on that I found myself appreciating the bell pepper’s slightly bitter counterpoint to the yellow summer squash. The creamy lobes of ackee, my partner and I agreed, outperform jackfruit on our palates as a meat substitute for vegans.
Decidedly not creamy, unlike recipes to which I’m accustomed, the coleslaw almost entirely lacked dressing. While thinly, uniformly shredded cabbage may have redeemed this slaw, the rough cuts and randomly interspersed romaine lettuce warranted just a couple of bites.
Similarly bland, the fried plantains made a nice dipper for Stone’s spicy jerk sauce. A comparison with french fries seems like a stretch, but we ate the plantains in much the same manner. As far as filling starches go, I’m still hoping to taste festival dumplings, made from a cornmeal dough that’s fried and traditionally eaten with jerk. These have eluded me since Stone’s first foray into Southern Oregon.
Also on the fried foods front, I fondly recalled slightly crispy, barely battered, tail-on “popcorn” shrimp that Stone’s served last summer, as well as a special whole tilapia. More recently, Stone’s featured shrimp sautéed with vegetables, as well as goat curry, which I’m hankering to try.
A Stone’s staple, the “sorigin roots” juice combines hibiscus improbably but deliciously with beets spiked with fresh ginger and lime. The juice was both a tonic in the day’s smoky haze and a refreshing treat to perk up the taste buds. Last summer, we also liked the “jack it up” juice with jackfruit, pineapple, mango, ginger and lime.
Stone’s regular spot is at 115 W. Valley View Road, adjacent to Talent’s roundabout and behind Talent Market and Liquor Store and Green Valley Wellness. The truck typically operates from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday but also decamps for special events. Follow @stonesjamaicanrootsandjuice on Instagram for updates.
More “bubble tea” is brewing in Ashland.
Matcha Boba House opened in late August at 297 E. Main St., formerly an antiques store. Owned by Zachary and Ginger Martgan, Matcha specializes in hot and iced teas and coffees, smoothies, slushies and options to add brown sugar-sweetened boba pearls and other gelatinous toppings. There are no food items on Matcha’s menu.
Gaining recent popularity in Southern Oregon, boba is common across much of the Pacific Northwest since its 1980s genesis in Taiwan. The quintessential beverage combines black, oolong or jasmine tea, chilled, mixed with milk and topped with chewy beads of tapioca that have spun off into “jelly,” “crystal,” “popping” and “pudding” alternatives. Happy Bowl and Noonie’s in Ashland also serve boba beverages.
Matcha’s menu features lychee, passionfruit and “rainbow” jellies; green apple, strawberry and mango popping boba; boba shaped like stars and dolphins and other novelties. Build your own boba starts at $4 and costs an additional 50 cents per flavor and topping. Dairy alternatives are available, and the each beverage’s sweetness can be customized.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday. Follow @matcha.ashland on Instagram for updates.
Ticket sales have begun for the 2022 Oregon Chocolate Festival.
Organizers announced an in-person festival March 4-6, following last year’s virtual event. Prebooking for overnight packages begins in October. Ten percent of event proceeds are slated for donation to a local nonprofit.
Workshops, cooking demonstrations, tastings and face-to-face interactions with chocolate experts are back on the 2022 event lineup. Neuman Hotel Group also plans to reinstate its popular Chocolate Makers Wine Dinner, Friday night social and chocolate-themed Sunday brunch. See oregonchocolatefestival.com/schedule for dates, times and pricing.
Neuman hosts the 18th annual festival with activities and accommodations at Ashland Hills Hotel & Suites and the downtown Ashland Springs Hotel. For overnight experiences see oregonchocolatefestival.com/oregon-chocolate-festival-overnight-package/
A second Fatso’s Cheketos truck is geared to the keto diet.
The lime green truck hit the streets last week, bringing “chacos,” “chaffles,” chili and other keto-friendly dishes to Grants Pass and points beyond. The first Fatso’s truck has served Medford for more than a year, first at Orley’s Stoves & Spas, then at the “backyard community food court” behind Ride’Em Wear on South Riverside Avenue.
The new Fatso’s truck boasts flat-screen televisions for viewing sports and other spectacles, where the truck has set up for regular service and special events. See fatsocheketos.com
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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.