Craving griot and jerk pork? Here's where to feast on some of the best (and authentic) West Indian food SoFla has to offer.
Three signs one can always depend on when it comes to discovering good West Indian restaurants: low cost, big flavor; a squadron of West Indians, accents flaring in what sounds like an argument, but is, in fact, friendly banter; weathered jars of homemade pickled spice concoctions. The following venues have at least one of these prerequisites. A note about some of the Haitian restaurants listed in this guide, in some cases management doesn't speak English (and doesn't care to), so either consult a Haitian friend or colleague for interpretation or just wing it. (It's worth it). An asterisk* will indicate these special cases.
Haitian in Dade
Despite its quaint blue and white, casita-style setup, waiting for take-out on a Friday evening at Chez Madame John's
is like standing in line to get into Mansion (without a connection). Poised next to a Subway Sandwich Shop in North Miami, this place gets super busy. Amid a menu of stewed foie (liver), $4.26, for breakfast and boulette poule macaroni (macaroni and chicken), $7.46, for lunch, the most important phrase to remember is: Griot Complete, (Gree' Yo Come Plet), a platter of fried pork chunks prepared in all its juicy, fatty glory and served with rice and beans, Bonnon, fried green plantains, and a small container of Pikliz -- a pickled spice mix of vinegar, chopped cabbage, carrots, onion, scotch bonnet and sometimes a clove on top. Tip: Call and place the order a half hour in advance.975 NE 125th St., North Miami; 305-892-9333 *
From the pungent aroma of ginger bread and butter cakes ($1 a slice) to the homemade beef, herring and veggie pâtés (50 cents each), La Patissiere Bakery Inc.
is like a little Parisian-style bakery tucked away in North Miami's West Dixie Plaza. Owned and operated by The Boulos Madames, a three-generation family of women from Haitian-Arabic descent, this venue is known for its baked Haitian specialties, particularly wedding cakes. It also offers a variety of homemade juices including a blend of guava, pineapple and tamarind ($1.50) and AK 100, (Ah-Ka-Cent), a traditional Haitian breakfast energy drink of carnation milk, white sugar, cornmeal and sweet spices (served with warm bread). The drink is also available in fat free (though doesn't seem possible). 14540 West Dixie Highway, North Miami; 305-944-5318
At Chef Creole Seafood Inc.
, the fried snapper is off the hook, meaning the fish tastes super fresh, like it just arrived from the gulf. And it's huge. The platter ($12) includes rice and beans and fried green or sweet plantains. Note: For leftover fish, add a little mayo, onion, scallion, freshly ground black pepper and a teeny, tiny piece of scotch bonnet pepper and it makes a fantastic fish dip. Menu also includes lambi, (conch in a tomato sauce) for $16.75; fried or steamed lobster and shrimp combo platters for $22.75. The Little Haiti location has a little tiki-style appeal for Friday night's live Compas bands. 200 NW 54th St.; 305-754-2223; 13125 West Dixie Hwy., North Miami; 305-899-2729
At Bel' Fouchet
, the nickel-and-dime-bag appearance is the stuff that good hole-in-the-
walls are made of -- minimum fluff, maximum flavor. Single platters of legume (stewed
vegetables and meat, $8) and the griot ($7) is served with the most decadent rice and beans known to man. Meals comfortably feed two, so there's change left over for the imported Couronne fruit champagne ($1 a can). Clients have turned Bel' Fouchet's parking lot into a makeshift drive-in for outdoor seating (in one's car), perfect for cheap after-work, commiseration sessions with friends. Note: Griot is available everyday after 12:30 p.m., except for Sunday's when they are closed. * 8267 N. Miami Ave.; 305-757-6408
At Caribbean Fresh Cassave & Stuff Restaurant
, owner Cherfrere Rikenson is the only restaurateur who serves homemade cassave ($6), a large, dry, flat circular treat made of yucca (cassava) and coconut. The family style restaurant is located in the heart of Little Haiti and serves all of the Haitian classics -- legume, lambi, etc. -- but the standout is definitely the cassave, which tastes similar to a pita chip and is traditionally served with a spicy peanut butter for breakfast. It's also fabulous munchy food, perfect with sun-dried tomato and asparagus spreads, hummus, guacamole and salsas. 5961 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami; 305-754-1199
Haitian in Broward
, the standouts include the not-too-greasy, akra de malanga, a fritter made of a taro root reminiscent of white yams, that is beautifully spiced with Caribbean herbs (four fritters for $1). Also, the Legume, $7, a veggie stew of cabbage, cho cho, (also called chayote or mango squash) and carrots that are sweet and firm, is perfect comfort food, especially when paired with their tasty white rice (jasmine rice with Haitian flair). This is one of those mom 'n pop, hole-in-the-walls tucked away in a Miramar Parkway plaza. Bamboche 6320 Miramar Pkwy.; 954-963-0502 *Island Palace
offers dreamy renditions of Haitian fare: lambi (stewed conch) in a silky tomato broth ($14), and legume, a vegetable stew with beef ($8). Both are served with rice and beans, fried green or sweet plantains, simple salad and pikliz. Saturday specials occasionally include a luxurious stewed lobster (prepared like lambi). Other menu options include tasso, fried goat chunks ($10); griot ($7.50) and stewed chicken, ($7.50). On Saturday evenings booths are filled with Heineken bottles and flirty couples swaying to Sweet Mickey (a popular Haitian musician) whispering from the speakers. This little old-school Caribbean style lounge sits next to a Jamaican club in a Lauderdale Lakes Plaza. 4170 North State Road 7; 954-735-2233 *
Jamaican in Dade
When it comes to the classic Jamaican breakfast offerings, Ventura Restaurant
a run things. The ackee and saltfish platter ($10.17) is served every day with boiled green bananas, white Irish potatoes, yellow and/or white yams and boiled dumplings (on Sundays, they serve fried dumplings). Stewed liver or kidney is made in a browning sauce with caramelized onions and served with the same sides for $5.89. They serve eggs any style with bacon or sausage and toasted hard dough bread for $3.75. Note: For a true JA experience, smear a little butter and jam on the hard dough and dip in your coffee (pretend it's Blue Mountain). Ventura is set in an obscure Northwest 7th Avenue Plaza and its décor is reminiscent of a Halfway Tree eatery in Kingston with unassuming, two- and four-tops covered with red and white checkered tablecloths, plastic rose settings and '80s posters of the Marley children. 12985 NW 7th Ave.; 305-687-9111
Set in a West Indian bodega with all the typical convenience store offerings like D&G Kola Champagne and hard dough bread, B&M
is a classic West Indian hangout for blue collar workmen and those who just want to shoot the breeze. Menu includes brown stew chicken, roti, curry cabbage and rice and peas. Standouts include a wicked cow foot stew ($8), defined by a silky, gelatin-like, textured meat seasoned with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, tomato paste, mushroom soy sauce, thyme, pepper and a cinnamon stick. Menu specials include Manish Watah (manish water), a goat head soup that's a laborious effort of stewed goat's head, yam, potatoes, carrots, cho-cho (chayote squash), thyme, garlic, onion, salt and pepper, priced at $3 to $5.75. Note: B & M carries Tru-Juice ($2.50), a hard-to-find Jamaican line of lush, tropical blends including mango, guava and bananas. 219 NE 79th St.; 305-757-2889
For the last 30 years, Clive's Café
owner -- endearingly known as Ms. Pearl -- has prepared her menu's standout, a jerk recipe including allspice, garlic, scotch bonnet and black pepper. (Jerk is Jamaica's interpretation of BBQ). Her rendition tastes like homemade Pickapeppa Sauce (think of a fortified worcestershire with a Caribbean twist). Jerk chicken platters are $6 and include rice and peas (which is prepared with red beans and coconut cream) or white rice, fried green or sweet plantains, cabbage or simple salad (on occasion, she serves jerk pork). The tiny diner-style setup includes a small counter space and a couple tables, so one can take in this classic Jamaican BBQ fare with a piping cold Red Stripe ($2.50) ginger beer ($1) or cola Champagne ($1). 2818 N. Miami Ave.; 305-576-0277
Anyone bold enough to put a jerk rub on foie gras (and pull it off) is definitely worth chatting about. And what about Red Stripe steamed mussels? Even though Ortanique on the Mile
does not fit the three-point guide for discovering good West Indian food, Chef Cindy Hutson's got it like that. Discover Jamaican-inspired haute cuisine jewels at this romantic venue defined by dreamy fabrics in different variations of the ortanique hue (a mandarin-like color). The jerk-rubbed Sonoma foie gras is served over warm salad of mâche, crisp potatoes and duck confit with burnt orange marmalade and Grand Marnier drizzle ($28). Though typically paired with a glass of Sauternes ($10), with all these sweet ingredients a balanced suggestion would be a glass of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV ($17 a glass). Other irie selections include West Indian curried crab cakes ($16) and the West Indian bouillabaisse ($21 for lunch, $41 for dinner). 278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-446-7710
Jamaican in BrowardDonna's Restaurant Inc.
is a franchise of Jamaican restaurants throughout Broward, but the Lauderhill location offers the best tasting brown stew and fried chicken of all three locations. Chicken is served with rice and peas, simple salad and sweet fried plantains ($5.29 for lunch, $6.88 for dinner). The menu also includes stew peas, a red peas stew with pig's tail and beef ($8.47 for dinner), and curry goat ($5.29 for lunch and $9.98 for dinner). The escoveitch fish is a ceviche-style taste experience where the lemony fried fish is topped with sweet onion ribbons, chopped carrot and slivers of scotch bonnet pepper. Takeout is favored at this location.5434 N. University Drive, Lauderhill; 954-578-6970 Got your own favorite spot for West Indies grub? Write a review!
Chef Creole: cooking up good stuff.