MADISON -- Because of the recent influx of protestors at the state’s capitol, Ian’s Pizza claims to have delivered more than 40,000 slices of pizza and is quite possibly the most famous restaurant in Madison.
Meanwhile, a few miles away from State Street and a million miles outside of the limelight, Martin Deacon serves Jamaican and Caribbean meals at his popular restaurant, Jamerica, 1236 Williamson St.
In the mid ‘60s, Deacon moved to Madison from Port Antonio, Jamaica.
"I was traveling around, searching for a better land," he says. "Madison is such a great city. The people here are so helpful and so friendly."
Deacon says he fell in love with Madison’s friendliness and diversity and accepted a research job at the University of Wisconsin’s medical school. In 1968 he opened Jamerica as a specialty grocery store and take-out restaurant and later expanded to the nine-table restaurant it is today.
"Ever since, the food has been flying," says Deacon.
Jamerica offers lunch and dinner seven days a week. All of the entrees are Deacon’s personal concoctions and both meaty and veggie options are available. The menu includes classic Jamaican dishes like jerk chicken, pork or tofu, along with fried plantains, mango catfish or shrimp, ox tail (when available), a "mountain boy" stir fry, curried goat, barbecue tofu and pepper pot callaloo soup. (No, despite the Jamaica and Madison connections, we’re not talking about that kind of pot. Sorry, mon.)
Lunch prices range from $7.50 to $9.50; dinners are $9 to $15.50. All meals come with rice and beans and daily specials are always available, too. Jamerica offers a variety of beverages, but the drinks of choice are either the Jamaican beer Red Stripe, or a Jamaican soda called Ting. Jamaican ginger beer is also available.
On a recent visit, we ordered the jerk tofu ($8) and the mango rundown shrimp ($8.50). The portions were huge and we probably could have shared one meal. The dishes appeared similar in appearance, but had completely different tastes.
Both had rice and beans on the bottom of the bowl with different chunky, flavorful topping. The shrimp dish featured, naturally, shrimp, along with onion cabbage and mango coated with cocoanut milk. The tofu dish was very spicy, and was mixed with cabbage, onion, red peppers and carrots.
Jamerica’s decor is a tribute to Jamaica, Bob Marley and also Julia Roberts, who Deacon refers to as his girlfriend. The walls are brightly painted and one of the main walls is called the "tourist wall" which is covered with photos of people vacationing in Jamaica as well as postcards sent from the island. Deacon says customers tell him stories almost every day about visits to Jamaica.
Deacon visits friends in Jamaica every year, but says most of his relatives have moved or passed away. His main reason for visiting Jamaica, he says, is to get a break from Wisconsin winters.
"I still can’t get used to it," he says. "I just put up with it, but I don’t like it."
He says, however, that weather does not really matter to him. The friendliness of people in Madison reminded him of Jamaica and made him feel instantly comfortable 35 years ago and he still feels this way today.
"Jamaicans might not always feel great on the inside, but we still smile and make it look great on the outside," he says. "And we really like to have a good time."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.