By: Ian Palmer
A subject of local acclaim, Kelly’s Authentic Jamaican Food can hardly be called a hidden gem, but this small Jamaican restaurant located at 1583 S. Lumpkin St. in 5 Points of Athens gives off a vibe of exclusivity, simplicity and authenticity.
The walls in the small eatery are painted a patriotic bright yellow with green trim and meals are humbly served on paper plates with plastic cutlery. Beyond its bright colors and Bob Marley posters that adorn the walls, Kelly’s draws little attention to itself. But that's okay because the food speaks for itself.
The jerk chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender, flavorfully seasoned and HOT. So spicy-hot that I drain several cups of tea and inhale a piece of cornbread for relief every time I eat it. Plus the chicken is served in a pool of its own sauce, which envelops the sides and makes everything else on the plate equally spicy.
Speaking of side dishes, Kelly’s are fantastic. My usual choices are the spicy squash and the macaroni and cheese. The squash is exquisite – sweet, tangy and subtly hot. The macaroni and cheese is delicious; however, I primarily order it to have something mild and starchy to stifle heat in my mouth.
This is definitely the type of meal that sticks with you for the rest of the day. To say that the portions are generous would be an understatement, and the spiciness is enough to take a toll on even a native Jamaican eater. But I consider this a worthy trade-off for something so delicious and authentic.
Also, if you fear for your sensitive taste buds, the barbecue chicken is a great non-spicy option – but be warned, the restaurant can run out quickly.
I can’t think of anywhere else in Athens that offers authentic Jamaican food. Luckily for us, we have Kelly’s. And Kelly’s does Jamaican cuisine really, really well.