Devon House – It’s Not Just I-Scream
Devon House, Kingston Jamaica.
When you hear the words Devon House the first thing that comes to mind is ice cream. I mean that’s what Devon House is world famous for right? Before it even made it to all the “Top-Ten ice creams in the world” lists, Devon House had been serving both locals & tourists their world famous ‘i-scream’ for over twenty five years, but take a deeper look at this National Heritage site & a broader picture starts to form.
In my earliest memories of Devon House, I remember going for ice cream on Sunday evenings with my family, and in my later years hanging out on the lawns with friends after school. It was almost like the community park where everybody came together with one common denominator [ICE CREAM], and even up to this day on Sunday evenings you still see people walking into the place in droves!
I didn’t realize Devon House was more than ice-cream until maybe two or so years ago when I discovered the Devon House Bakery, and that’s when I really started paying attention.
Devon House is a place filled with literal centuries of history.
So boom let me break it down real quick. It all began in about 1667 when a minister called John Zellers was awarded 600 acres of land, dubbed Devon Penn. Zellers died in about the year 1700, and a rectory [church] was built circa 1750 which was occupied by a few reverends between then and the early 1800s. Devon Penn was mostly run down until Jamaica’s first black millionaire Mr. George Stiebel purchased a few acres of the property in 1881 & began his renovation & construction of the mansion we now know as Devon House.
George Stiebel was an interesting man. Born in the early 1800s, George was mulatto born into a family that wasn’t poor. That of course didn’t really help in him gaining the respect one would hope for. He dropped out of school pretty early and became a master carpenter gaining relative success before his 20s. Later on, George took a loan from his German father & purchased a cargo ship, which multiplied into a few more & helped him in a budding gun trade business which fed the Haitian revolution. George married his wife Magdalene in 1851, but a few years later he got lost at sea. Miraculously the guy survived & started over his life in Venezuela where a couple years later he moved from a peddler, to one of the richest gold traders there. By the time he came back to JA, big money poppin’ everyweh him go!
George came back to Jamaica and purchased 99 properties [because having 100 or more was illegal…. of course] & he built the Devon House mansion in 1881 as his main home on the foundation of the Devon Penn ruins. At one point in time the Millionaire’s Corner (intersection of Trafalgar / Hope Road / Waterloo) housed three of the island’s richest men (The Verley Family’s Abbey Court, Daniel Finzi’s Reka Dom [now YMCA] and George Stiebel’s Devon House). George died in 1896, and in 1923 the Melhado’s purchased the property. After about 5 years the Melhado’s sold it to the Lindo’s who had control of the property till the 1960s. By that time, it was just floating around & there were talks of demolishing the property, and that’s when the Jamaican government stepped in, started the restoration & the domino effect began.
Today the Devon House Heritage Site is owned by the Government of Jamaica, and falls directly under the guidance of the Ministry of Tourism. Operations are handled by the Devon House Development Company Limited, who have since 2002 managed the promotion and maintenance of Devon House as one of the premier cultural attractions and a center of activity in Kingston.
Devon House’s main selling point will always be the ice cream parlour, which was recently relocated to an even bigger space due to it’s popularity. There are a whole bunch of things to do on the Devon House compound, which boasts several restaurants & bars, as well as gift shops, art and jewellery stores, & even a spa!
I pop in to Devon House from time to time, but in gathering information for this piece I tried to focus on the food aspect, so I took my time & I dined at a few of the locations on property. Here are my favourites!
Yow if you know you know yaaah man! Bad Dawg has grown from a a small hot dog cart to a mini store located towards the entrance of Devon House. For only $250 JMD you can get the best hot dog you’ve ever had! I say that without hesitation. Just try it. Please. I beg you! [BTW these are pork sausages if you don’t eat pork then you don’t know good things… ok bye]
Steakhouse on the Verandah
Steakhouse on the Verandah is the newest addition to the Devon House family & by all means they are on the way to being a hit! Devon House in May 2017 was announced as Kingston’s designated Gastronomy Centre, with the Steakhouse on the Verandah at it’s core. “A true gastronomical explosion,” as described on their Facebook page, “the Steak House on the Verandah serves premium local dry-aged steaks, succulent specialties and signature desserts.”
Now I don’t eat beef, but this menu offers a wide variety of options for all palates. It’s not just about the steak, the menu ranges from beef to fish to chicken, and the Steakhouse on the Verandah is doing gourmet right. Gourmet food of course comes with gourmet prices but honestly it is well worth it. I had the Rosemary Herb Roasted Chicken which was super flavourful. The plating was well put together & the service was top notch!
Devon House Bakery
Unfortunately I’m on a patty fast due to severe allergies, but trust me Devon House Bakery’s ‘gourmet’ patties are the best I’ve ever had (& I’m a Tastee advocate). They’re not your typical patties as you can see even from just the shape. If you’ve never tried it you’re missing out. They have the usual beef & chicken patties, but best believe the fish patty & the shrimp patty are the winners in my book. You can try the lobster patty if you’re feeling extra fancy. The pastries in this place are made fresh daily as well and my favourite is the carrot cake with the pineapple chunks that just take it to a whole new level. The bread pudding is also very peak! I’d recommend the Devon House bakery to anyone in Kingston looking to get a variety of sweet treats at a convenient location.
Mahogany Tree Bar
I wrote about my Mahogany Tree Bar experience a few weeks ago in HEAVEN & HEARTH – SMALL PAR AT MAHOGANY TREE BAR & my sentiments remain the same. Mahogany Tree Bar is an extension of the Grogshoppe Restaurant. In addition to Mahogany Tree Bar, the Grogshoppe also has La Pizzeria, which specializes in freshly made Italian pizza. The ambience is very chill & you can mix & match your food & drinks from all three entities. Mahogany is really the vibe & doing the Devon House mansion tour you really get a deeper understanding of what the mahogany tree means to the spirit of Devon House.
The Devon House Mansion Tour
You guys know it’s only $700 JMD for locals to tour the Devon House mansion right?!?!? Only seven hundred dollars to get a piece of history. My tour guide Jodi had only just started being a tour guide in January 2017, but she has become a masterclass in such a short period of time. I was a bit familiar with Mr. Steibel and the history of Devon House, but Jodi brought us down memory lane with a detailed explanation of every room, it’s furniture and relation to the past tenants of the mansion. The history of Devon House is mind blowing. The craftsmanship and detailing are top notch, and just walking through the mansion & looking at the furniture and bedrooms, you really get an idea of the grandeur that once occupied the building. From the mahogany floors, to the victorian furniture and fine china, this building is a sight to see. When you look at the small details and refinement, you truly realize why the government stepped in to save the structure from proposed demolition, and worked so hard to restore it. It’s really the last of it’s kind and a true Jamaican gem.
Devon House is not just about ice cream. It’s a budding eco-system full of life. Next time you go put a pause on the rum & raisin & devon stout ice cream & just take a walk through the property and try something new. Experience Devon House for what it truly is.
Until the next one.
[Check out the gallery of pictures from my Devon House mansion tour]