Cultural Crock Pot: Café Trinidad offers homestyle island fare

Trinbagonian cuisine; Mackenzie Cramblit

Trinbagonian cuisine; Mackenzie Cramblit

Serial dieters and otherwise picky eaters beware: Café Trinidad serves up generous portions of Trinbagonian food just like your fantasy grandmother used to make. The food is as filling as it is flavorful. You may want to save the calorie counting for when you’re back on campus because each bite transports the palate.

Tucked away on the corner of 75th Street and St. Lawrence Avenue in Grand Crossing, Café Trinidad’s one-room restaurant is fittingly proportionate to the tiny country that the Hicks family calls home. For five years, the Hicks have followed a disciplined routine that would make even Benjamin Franklin blush. Each day of the week, the family comes into the restaurant at 7am to start preparing the dumplings, curries, and jerk chicken that will feed the hungry lunch and dinner crowds later on. Despite the impetuousness of heat and spice, it’s a process that can’t be rushed.

The national cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago is as storied as the forced migrations that mark the islands’ history. A sort of cultural Crock Pot, Trini gastronomy borrows from the varied culinary traditions of India, West Africa, Spain, and the Americas to create dishes that are even more delicious than the sum of their parts. Take curry, for example. Café Trinidad prepares their curry with your choice of meat–goat, chicken, crab or shrimp. (Vegetarian options are limited to channa curry.) Unlike Indian or Southeast Asian curries, Trini curry is a mild brown sauce that gives full play to the tender, slow-cooked protein. Spooned atop a bed of fluffy brown rice and black-eyed peas (a nod to Creole dirty rice and Cuban black beans and rice), nothing could be better. Don’t expect to chow down mindlessly, though. Meat at Café Trinidad is prepared as it should be–bones intact. Think of it as a natural reminder to slow down and savor the next bite on Island Time.

Each main dish is accompanied by a piece of plain flour roti, a staple of the Trinbagonian diet and an edible reminder of the islands’ lasting ties to Indian culture. Offered an additional side dish, the choice should always be clear: fried plantains. Cut at a bias and sautéed in oil until the outside is lacy-crisp, they are easily the most seductive item on the menu. One culinary influence of the food at Café Trinidad remains tenuous, at the very least ambiguous. What kind of cultural export is macaroni pie? Vaguely Italian, vaguely Middle America, it is obviously delicious. And no, it’s not vegan. Soul Veg is down the street.

At Café Trinidad, you can really have it all–to a point. There was a run on collard greens, and the spicy cabbage wasn’t a tempting replacement. On the other hand, the sweet potatoes, although unnaturally saccharine, took on a whole new meaning when considered as a dessert. For non-diabetic sugar fiends, it’s a potentially gratifying way to fulfill your recommended daily intake of vitamin A (1500 micrograms). Consider packing a couple syringes anyway, though–the crash is intense.

Thankfully, after all that eating you’ll be doing, Café Trinidad offers you something nice to wash it down and get things moving so you can gear up for the next round. The house ginger beer is hotter than naked yoga. Made with grated fresh ginger, sugar, and water, it more than compensates for the lack of kick in the unintimidating curries. Dare your worst attention-seeking friends to chug it and make them count the number of tears shed in Bhojpuri. You might get a rise out of Geraldine, the cute lady who’s been working weekends at Café Trindidad since 2005. Of course, it takes a lot to impress Geraldine.
557 E. 75th St. Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-7pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-8pm; Sunday, noon-5pm. (773)846-8081.