Angela White lifted the lid on a horizontal black drum. Once the smoldering charcoal kicked in and reached her desired temperature, she loaded well-seasoned thighs, breasts, drumsticks, and wings on the grill to meet demand for more jerk chicken. That dish has been the breakout hit at South LA’s Peckish Snack Bar, which White and her family members opened in early November 2018. When asked if she could share any details of the seasoning, White just shook her head and said, “Everybody asks that.”
The family draws on their Jamaican heritage for the house specialty: jerk chicken. Angela’s sister Natasha White made it clear that far too many places in LA serve illegitimate versions slathered in sauce, a tell-tale sign the bird’s an imposter. Jerk chicken shacks they frequented in Jamaica would serve dry-rubbed, well-seasoned chicken in a pit. Since that type of cooking is unthinkable in LA restaurants, Angela dry-rubs birds with her signature spice blend, marinates overnight, and grills over charcoal in a barrel.
Peckish serves chicken simply with sweet rolls, but the restaurant is more notable for two signature jerk chicken preparations. Their chicken & waffle ($9 for ¼ dark or white) is unlike any other version in town. Bone-in chunks of chicken arrive piled on an airy waffle that tastes like pumpkin spice, minus the pumpkin. Maple syrup and a powdered sugar dusting add sweetness that temper the chicken’s spice. They also include a choice of sauce: spicy mango jerk, sweeter pineapple jerk, teriyaki jerk that falls somewhere in-between, or sweet chile.
Angela’s smoky grilled chicken is indeed worth a detour, sporting bronzed skin and lip-stinging spice that penetrates to the bone. Her recipe is top secret, but it’s hard to imagine allspice, clove, and Scotch bonnet chiles don’t play roles.
The hilariously titled “bowl of jerk” ($6.50 to 8) features the same chicken served over steamed white rice with crunchy clipped scallions, enough pickled ginger to last at least a few different sushi dinners, and a choice of sauce. Jerk chicken also co-stars on hearty waffle sandwiches and atop lighter salads.
It isn’t jerk, but chicken fuels their house-made patties ($4). These flaky Jamaican hand pies also come with fillings like beef and vegetables and await customers in an incubator by the door. The curry chicken version contains a spicy slurry with lingering heat.
Peckish Snack Bar also features a juice program, since this is LA. Amazing Sorrel ($5 for 12 ounces) is a spicy, but refreshing purple beverage made with sorrel (hibiscus), ginger, mint, and lemon.
The restaurant’s menu also includes pizza, sandwiches, and chili cheese chips for more basic grab-and-go comfort. Breakfast feeds locals simpler fare like acai bowls, muffins, and Danishes.
Containers of Jenn’s banana pudding ($4.50) are available by the register. Sadly, Natasha’s close friend Jenn recently passed away, but the banana pudding fiend shared her recipe, which lives on at Peckish Snack Bar. This dessert honors her memory with pronounced banana flavor, soft-cooked banana slices, and Nilla wafers under the surface, with a crumbled Nilla wafer topping. Peckish also sells hefty slabs of Bree’s Cakes “soul cakes.”
Angela, Natasha, and their family grew up nearby after their parents immigrated from Jamaica. Their mother was born in Spanish Town, and their father grew up in St. Mary. Mom moved first to LA to work in healthcare at Kaiser and later brought everybody else.
Angela is the family chef while sister Natasha is a lawyer and real estate broker. Niece Evadne “NeNe” White works the front of house. Other sisters are involved, but not day-to-day.
Rarely does zoning work in an aspiring food operator’s favor, but that was the case with Peckish Snack Bar. The family originally planned to partner on a simple snack shop, but learned their space was permitted for so much more. Yes, the place still displays racks of snacks by entrance, but there’s also a full kitchen and fired-up grill every day out front.
Peckish Snack Bar resides in a charming old building with a Spanish tile roof in little known Park Mesa Heights, a neighborhood south of Leimert Park. The space houses a high ceiling, stainless steel counters, and red and white walls lined with paintings of black music icons like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and James Brown. The family displays a painting of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama, and Malcolm X in a place of honor by the entrance. It’s always playing upbeat music, adding to the welcoming vibe.
The family opened for business on November 5, but they already greet a surprisingly high number of customers who pass through Peckish’s front door with, “Welcome back.” That’s an encouraging sign for such a new restaurant. Then again, good jerk chicken is pretty persuasive.
Peckish Snack Bar is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday.
Peckish Snack Bar, 3209 W. 54th St., Los Angeles, 323.596.3031
- All Dining on a Dime [ELA]