Back in 2015, President Barack Obama made June Caribbean Heritage Month. , Break out the pulourie, ponche de crema, soca, and slow wine, because I am here for it!
My dad was a proud Barbadian man. Cou-cou & flying fish and pudding & souce were the dishes he’d frequently request whenever we’d visit; moreover, my older sister would gladly make it because daddy was home. I was a picky eater, as well as a brat, so daddy made sure to get me a ham cutter (sandwich) or a box of Chefette, the “Popeyes Chicken of Barbados”.
My mom is from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. I have vivid memories of sitting in the veranda with my grandmother back in Sangre Grandé as she peeled guineps, instructing me on how to eat them without swallowing the seed. My mom’s whole family lived in our apartment building in Brooklyn, and every once in a while, her sister would crank out rotis by the dozen on the tawa in her kitchen.
I visited Barbados nearly annually as a kid; however, I seem to identify with the trini side more. I even have a very slight accent when I say certain words. It’s quite amusing that I’d say condensed milk with the thickest accent, not knowing it was an accent at all, until I heard someone who wasn’t Caribbean say it.
But I digress.
Now, back to Trinidad… Trini food has a lot of East Indian, African, Spanish, and Chinese influences, with lots of bold flavors and spices. My favorite Trini dishes are aloo (savory potato-stuffed pastry, deep fried) and fried bakes. There’s nothing like fried bakes and freshly roasted ham on Christmas morning.
In honor of Caribbean heritage month, my girl-date dinner with Amy – one of my best friends and hair stylist – was at Pearl’s in Williamsburg. With authentic Trinidadian dishes, Pearl’s is known for their bake and shark, so I came with a purpose.
Husband and wife duo, John and Fallon Seymour, are no strangers to the food business with Pop’s and Sweet Chick under their belts. Not even a year old, the restaurant pays homage to Fallon’s Trinidadian roots, and is named after her grandmother, Pearl.
The island vibe of Pearl’s hits you before even walking through the door. First, I was greeted by their sidewalk chalkboard, advertising their ackee and salt fish with breadfruit. Next was the trini flag in the window, representing hard! That vibe follows you inside where there are disco lights, bright splashes of pink and turquoise and doodles on the wall, photos of reggae greats, and boom boxes hung around. Speaking of boom boxes: Pearl’s had bare chunes! They played really good music, lots of Beres Hammond, Peter Tosh, and other old reggae classics.
We were starving upon arrival. Amy had a little fun waiting for me to leave my office, and she needed some food to soak that up, if you know what I mean. Considering I hadn’t eaten in a few hours, once the waitress came to the table to greet us, we had already made our selections from the menu and were ready to order. “Rum punch, sorrel shandy, macaroni pie, jerk chicken, and a bake and shrimp, please and thank you.” I’m sure I said it all in one breath, too.
The wait didn’t seem long at all because once our drinks arrived from the bar, they were immediately followed by the macaroni pie. The rum punch was strong. It was a little too strong for my personal taste, but the punch portion of the drink had great flavor, using apple, watermelon, and orange juices. The sorrel shandy was made with Carib lager, which Amy really enjoyed.
Have you ever been so hungry that you just start shovel in food in your mouth and burn the tastebuds off your tongue? Yea, that was me. The macaroni pie was still bubbling when it got to our table, but it looked so good, I just couldn’t wait. Baked until the top was golden brown, inside the pie was much creamier than many of the other Trinidadian macaroni pies I’ve had, which I didn’t mind at all. And it was elbow macaroni! I know there are tons of types of pastas you can use to make macaroni pie/and cheese, but the elbows just made it more authentic to me.
By the time the pie stopped bubbling, our jerk chicken and bake and shrimp came, followed by a carousel of sauces: scotch bonnet, garlic, tamarind, and shadow bene (culantro.) Plump, fried shrimp, topped with pickled slaw and mango chutney, nestled in this fried fluffy bed of goodness. My eyes lit up as I doused my bake and shrimp with the garlic, tamarind, and shadow bene sauces, and took my first bite. With the combination of the different flavors of the sauces and different textures throughout the sandwich – I had my mind made up that I’d be back within the first bite.
The jerk chicken was moist and had a great char, but most importantly, it was spicy! The rice and peas had a noticeable hint of coconut milk – just like my mom makes it.
I raved about Pearl’s for the rest of the night. And the following day. And I mean raved. I’m already plotting on my next visit: a nearby table had a plate of stuffed crab backs that I’m dying to try! Who’s down for a field trip?
118 N. 8th Street