Candy. Turkey. Cookies. Pumpkin spice. When – not if — you reach Holiday Food Overload this season, Chef Jimmy’s Korean-Jamaican cuisine’ll take your taste buds to a whole new dimension.
Ouch, that hurt! We literally ate too much the first time we tried The Spicy Belly. We couldn’t stop eating, it was all so deliciously interesting. I’ve never had anything like it and probably neither have you – it’s the first fusion of its kind, apparently. Foodie Alert: the Travel Channel & EaterLA have both done stories on this little family-run restaurant in nearby Wissahickon/Roxborough.
Stellar reviews keep piling up, and we can see why. We ordered, like, everything, and just kept eating… Trying to get our heads around the flavors, I guess, is my excuse for overeating but also the food here is just super yummy. And surprisingly homey, for such an exotic spin.
Makes sense, when you learn that Chef Jimmy Mill’s unique cooking style is based on the meals his Korean mother made for their family growing up. His father was Jamaican, so she learned to recreate his favorite foods with Korean ingredients – and add some Jamaican flair to her own traditional recipes.
No small feat, considering how assertive and different these two fares are:
Korean cuisine tends to be spicy with red pepper, ginger, and garlic. And salty-savory seasonings like soy sauce and bean paste. Rice vinegar adds a sour kick. Bean sprouts, green onions, and cabbage (raw & fermented aka kimchi).
Jamaican food is savory and deeply-seasoned. In addition to garlic & ginger, you’ll find cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Stewed greens, squash, coconut, fiery scotch bonnets. Plantains, avocado and pineapples.
Generalizing, of course, but you get the idea: lots of strong flavors – you’d think they’d compete and probably in most kitchens they would. But Chef Jimmy manages to highlight the best of both cuisines, with a varied menu that offers something for everyone.
They start you off with “Banchan” – a Korean tradition, akin to the French “amuse bouche:” complimentary small bites to wake up your tastebuds and prepare your palate for the flavors to come. Ours included sweet-tangy black beans, carrot salad, and an Asian pear slaw that should automatically come with everything, IMHO.
Moving on, two words about Spicy Belly’s appetizers: Codfish Fritters. Two more words: Order them. I’m sure the other stuff is great – we ordered like four different apps and I remember enjoying every bite but in retrospect I just keep thinking about those crispy, delicious codfish fritters. Next time I will order along with the callaloo (sautéed Caribbean greens) and eat as an entre like they do in the Islands.
How ‘bout a cheesesteak? But instead of the usual beef, it’s authentic “Bulogi” – grilled, shaved ribeye in a salty-sweet-tangy Korean BBQ sauce. It’s spicy, too, like a slow burn. Very warm but not quite hot. You’d think the caramelized onions & smoked provolone would clash but nope. Sets off cilantro-salted fries perfectly.
Now the “bibimbap” – a traditional Korean comfort food of meat, veggies, rice, and (in fancy versions) an over-easy egg on top. The Spicy Belly’s spin uses Caribbean coconut rice and “peas” (beans) with crunchy sprouts, piquant picked veggies and jerk chicken. They’ll actually throw in any protein you want, they all work here (including seitan). Stir in your egg and that Kochujang sauce (red pepper paste) and just let all the flavor and texture have its way with your mouth. So wrong but yet so right.
Speaking of mixed feelings, let’s talk about the bar. I love everything about it except – forgive me — the constant Reggae music. D’oh! Agreed it’s totally appropriate for the island-themed décor but regardless. All the time? Feels cliché and kinda forced in this corner of Philly that is so very far from the Caribbean. To me. Maybe I’ll be more into it when I’m sick of winter and want to pretend I’m on vacation. PS Shouldn’t they at least play, like, half Korean music? 😉
But whatever, no way I’m letting a tiny quibble like soundtrack get in the way of The Spicy Belly’s spectacular selection of original cocktails. Truly lovely concoctions like crisp-tart Sojou Lemonade and a fresh, spicy “MoHeato” with rum & jalapeno vodka. Their in-house sangria bursts with tropical fruit and they’ve got a rainbow of different punches.
Sampled my way around their drink menu, and did not encounter one off note. “Is there even alcohol in this?” I kept asking, because it wasn’t obvious and also at some point I was too buzzed to realize I was repeating myself.
But I’m a beer girl, too, and the draft selection here is also impressive including my favorite local beers from Wissahickon Brewing Company: Kelpius Kave, Raisin’ Cane, Coho Double IPA and Opiksu Pale Ale. Get ‘em while they last after October’s tap takeover. And don’t forget your growler, especially on Thursdays when they’re $4 off.
Regular food & drink specials, including Happy Hours – check their their Facebook for specifics as these tend to change frequently. Their menu, too, goes thru seasonal tweaks so it’s like a different adventure every time you go back. And you will be back, once you try this original cooking. It’ll be your go-to for those times you’re hungry but uninspired.
TRY IT NOW! Bring a November East Falls Local newspaper to Spicy Belly for a free appetizer when you purchase two entrees. (Or just tell ’em EFL sent you.)
The Spicy Belly
Chef Jimmy and his brother Jason present Korean-Jamaican fusion like their momma made it. Wings burgers and tacos, plus original specialties like whole fried fish and oxtail stew. Reservations accepted thru their website & Open Table. Brunch served on weekends. MENU
3847 Terrace Street (the old Terrace Taproom location)
215-482-2095 Open Tues – Thurs 5pm – 11pm; Fri 5pm -2am; Sat 12-m – 2pm; Sun 12pm – 10pm. Happy Hour Tues thru Fri 5pm -7pm