Jerlene's for Lunch - A Real Island Experience
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
On Sunday, July 29th, we took a boat tour of the far East End of Roatan, this post is part of a series about that day. The tour was with Eastender out of Oak Ridge and included Port Royal, the Mangrove Channel / Cut from the south side to the north shore, Camp Bay Beach, Helene, Morat & Isla Barbareta. This was one of our favorite days on the island and we highly recommend it!
Jerlene waved through the open doorway of her restaurant simply named Jerlene's as we pulled up, stepping to the edge of the dock just over the water, reaching down to grab the rope and help tie our boat to the side. "OLA!" she said with a huge smile.
We were midway through our East End tour and we were hungry. At the beginning of our tour we were given our lunch options. We had just spent a couple hours in Camp Bay, where we munched on conch ceviche, black bean dip with tortilla chips and a delightful heavy-poured rum punch at La Sirena.
Camp Bay Lodge was also a potential candidate but when we heard about Jerlene’s on the island of St. Helene we knew that was where we needed to be. Our tour guide Tyller told us Jerlene's was a "family-style restaurant" that served "whatever just came off the boat". Sounds like what we had in mind when setting off on this journey. Turns out Jerlene is not only the owner of this perfect little restaurant overlooking the beautiful Caribbean waters, she's the chef, the fisherman and the waiter.
From Camp Bay Beach and the far eastern tip of Roatan it was a beautiful 30 minute boat ride inside the reef, between the north and east side of the small island of Helene and the smaller uninhabited island of Morat, to get to the village of Sico, where Jerlene’s is located at the end of a long dock. Like many spots around here, the dock not only serves as a spot to tie up a variety of boats, but a walkway between small homes, buildings, and other structures.
Sico was built around a small curved bay with lush jungle rising from the back and heavily worn dirt paths meandering between homes and up into the hills. A handful of various types of boats were moored offshore, a 20 or so foot sailboat, a couple fishing boats, a speed boat.
A couple dory’s were tied to the dock where folks cleaned freshly caught tuna and snapper in one of them, with the help of a few kids from the village. The kids tossed the innards of the fish into the water where huge tarpon would speed by, leaping out of the ocean to gobble up the little bits which they happily stopped me to show me on my walk back from the bathroom which was a tiny outhouse about 50 feet from the shore.
After tying up, we stepped up onto Jerlene’s covered platform at the end of the dock and found ourselves in an open air dining area with about 3 or 4 tables and a small bar and kitchen just behind it. A couple ladies from the village were finishing up their lunches and greeting us like we were family.
Our tour guide had called ahead to let them know we were coming, otherwise, we were told, they start everything from scratch and we’d be there quite a while. Not that we wouldn’t want to stay for as long as it took, but we had a full agenda for the day and Jade Beach on Barbareta was our next stop (read about that tour here: "The Magic of Jade Beach").
We sat down and bowls and plates began to descend onto the table family style. When we made our plans to eat here we were told their lion fish was fantastic and we’d hoped to try it, but were out of luck. Again, the menu is what they catch. There were fishing boats tied up just on the other side of the dock from the cafe and whatever we were going to eat had either come from their catch or what Jerlene had recently caught herself.
What did we get instead? Lobster tails and fried conch, along with potato salad, rice, beans, fried plantains and a jar of homemade pepper sauce (vinegar version - everywhere you go on the bay islands people and restaurants have their own homemade versions). It’s not that this isn’t standard island fare, it is, but everything was fresh made right off the boat. As a matter of fact, the dory’s that come by our house in Port Royal heading into town with fresh catch come from Helene.
It was all outstanding, but for me, the conch was the best part. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and we had fish camps both at the coast when we visited and all over the region. I love fried seafood and especially fried clams. I’ve never had fried conch and this reminded me of fried clams, but huge ones. Big chunks. They were perfectly chewy, briney and lightly battered. The vinegar hot sauce was the finishing touch to make them one of the most memorable bites I’ve had in Roatàn.
The view certainly didn’t hurt either.