words and photos by Charlee Harris
If you blink, you may miss the hidden gem that is the Flavor Grille. It is nestled in Merriman Valley surrounded by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Although tiny in size, this Jamaican- and soul-food-infused eatery swells with huge, overwhelming flavor.
This potent flavor is due to owner Jay Hill’s years of cooking and deep family roots. Jay attributes his culinary skills and love of food to his mother, Jacqueline Hill, who passed away in 2016. He cites her as the motivation behind the restaurant.
Jay says his aunt, Helen Arnold, was the guiding force behind him following his dream of opening a restaurant and diversifying Akron’s culinary palate.
As I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by the cashier and cooking staff. The atmosphere was warm and full of wonderful smells. To the left was a quaint dining area right near the kitchen. The menu is a blend of traditional soul food staples and classic Jamaican dishes. It was easy to read, full of options and set prominently on every table.
Flavor Grille is a true carry-out restaurant. There is no kitschy decor or snooty attitudes. Everyone is welcoming and down to earth.
With my stomach empty and a willing accomplice, my BFF Bria, in tow, I was ready to try it all. We ordered the catfish dinner with collard greens and sides of mac & cheese and fried shrimp. We also got two orders of chicken wings, one lemon pepper and the other jerk flavored.
I would recommend calling ahead and placing your order over the phone, especially on the weekend. We had time to kill so we found two empty seats and reclined like spectators. As we looked around, we witnessed the owner, Jay, frequently come from behind the counter to greet guests and catch up with regulars. Guests came from all walks of life and from all over Northeast Ohio.
The catfish dinner was the first to come out. After allowing it to cool down, we dug in, and boy, was it good. The fish was fried to perfection and evenly seasoned.
Next was the shrimp dinner, which was bursting with flavor. Although mild in spice, there was a surprising note of pepper that enhanced the garlic and created an exceptionally pleasing aroma. The collard greens were great, as traditional as greens get. The mac & cheese was very creamy but not so creamy that the noodles got lost. There was a perfect balance of cheese and noodles.
Remembering to leave room for our other two orders of chicken wings, I scaled back the gorging and waited. After realizing there seemed to be a bit of a delay, I approached the counter to inquire about the orders. A very apologetic cashier informed me that the order wasn’t put in and it would be just a little longer. Normally I would have been annoyed, but everyone was very sympathetic. The cashier even came from behind the counter and gave me a warm hug.
After a couple minutes the wings were hot and ready. Well worth the wait! They were scrumptious and adequate in size. The lemon pepper wings had a sensational zest with a powerful kick of heat. The jerk wings were drowning in sauce (which is how I prefer my wings) and the sauce was spicy, but not so spicy that it burned your mouth. Jay prides himself on his jerk sauce and says it has taken years to perfect.
All in all, the Flavor Grille was a great experience. The environment was relaxed and the food was enjoyable. They don’t scrimp on the portions — the serving sizes were large and shareable. For a quick meal, call your order in ahead of time. If it’s nice out and you want to take in the ambiance, stay and eat your food there. Either way, you will be welcomed by fantastic staff and the charismatic owner of the Flavor Grille.
The Flavor Grille
1562 Akron-Peninsula Rd., Akron
Open Tuesday-Friday 12-9 pm, Saturday 12-8 pm and Sunday 12-6 pm