Montego Bay’s Rodney Williams brings Jamaican flavor to Palmetto

Rodney Williams is on his third Jamaican restaurant in the Bradenton area. The location may be different, but Williams’ recipes, menu and bar selections haven’t changed much.

The Jamaica native opened Rodney’s Jamaican Grill at 814 Eighth Ave. W. in February after exiting a partnership with Jamaica Breeze, another Bradenton Jamaican joint. Prior to that partnership, Williams, 45, ran another Bradenton Jamaican restaurant, Jamrock, with his then-wife Sandra Leddy. When the two split, Williams decided to branch out on his own.

He learned how to cook from his grandmother when he was a child. He traveled with her to different construction sites in and around their home of Montego Bay, where she prepared food for hungry and tired construction crews. His career in hospitality started when he took a job at the Montego Bay Holiday Inn.

That job eventually lead him to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs in 2000, when he was 29. After he worked for Hilton Hotels for two-and-a-half years in Colorado he was transferred to the Hilton on Longboat Key, where he worked for two years until he and his wife opened Jamrock.

Rodney’s Jamaican Grill serves Jamaican favorites such as jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtail, fried plantains, callaloo spinach and Ting soda, a grapefruit soda popular in the Caribbean. Food made and served in Jamaica is typically quite spicy, but Williams has toned down his dishes for the American palate. He makes hot sauce from scotch bonnet peppers, a Caribbean variety of red pepper, for those who like it hot. Several of Williams’ customers have never tried Jamaican food before visiting his restaurant. He said often times they branch out and try oxtail, which is the culinary name for tail of cattle, and “they get hooked.”

But for those who don’t want to get adventurous yet, Williams has a few American staples on the menu: chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, sirloin burgers, fish sandwiches and chicken Alfredo.

Williams is happy with traffic and feedback so far at his Palmetto spot. He was on the lookout for another restaurant location and knew the Eighth Avenue West location used to be a Caribbean grill and he figured he could decorate the interior to his liking. After he met with property owner Han Soo, he decided to sign a three-year lease.

“I like it over here,” Williams said. “The people are nice and easy to deal with. A lot of people are showing the love. The support from everyone is priceless.”

Williams has a staff of about three people right now who help cook, clean and provide table service in the roughly 60-seat restaurant, which spans about 1,500 square feet. Williams is not currently able to get a full liquor license for Rodney’s Jamaican Grill but offers a selection of Jamaican wine and beer. He promises “an endless supply of Red Stripe,” a variety of Jamaican beer popular in the U.S.

Ivars Blums, 57, works nearby and is happy to have a Jamaican restaurant within walking distance of his workplace, Dynamic Dental Partners.

“I love Jamaican food,” Blums said. “And there are very few places here you can get traditional Jamaican dishes. There are few places in Palmetto I’m excited enough about to come back to and this is one of them.”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

Rodney’s Jamaican Grill if you go

  • Address: 814 Eighth Ave. W.
  • Phone: 941-981-3214
  • Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., closed Sunday
  • Website:
  • Prices: Appetizers from $2.50 to $9.50, sandwiches $8 to $14, entrees $11 to $17
  • Other information: take-out, dine-in and catered parties available

Source: Rodney’s Jamaican Grill website, Rodney Williams