St. Thomas, USVI, is famous for surreal vistas of sapphire waves framed by mountains and a bustling nightlife that lives up to its nickname of “Rock City.” But this popular cruise port is also noted for its creative and varied food scene.
With a mix of African, European and American influences, St. Thomas cuisine serves an eclectic array of dishes and experiences, from simple local spots to elegant dining rooms with multi-course meals.
St. Thomas Creativity That Hits the Mark
“I describe Caribbean cuisine as bold and colorful with a lot of spice,” says David Benjamin, the award-winning chef of St. Thomas’ popular Blue 11 and Indigo 4 restaurants. “St. Thomas is unique because we have a lot of influences from different cultures like European and American, but we don’t have much farming or grow a lot of produce. Yet, there’s a huge demand. It’s forced us to be creative.”
Creativity is clearly the hallmark of Chef Benji’s menus, which feature creative takes on traditional Caribbean dishes. At his intimate waterside restaurant Blue 11, aquamarine ceiling tiles, coral-colored chairs, and photos of docks and beaches called up the feeling of being near the ocean.
The long, polished bar was set up for laid-back enjoyment, but there’s nothing quick or casual about the dining experience. Blue 11 offers tasting menus of seven, nine, or eleven dishes. Benjamin supplies innovative interpretations of traditional Caribbean dishes and presents them so stylishly that they are not easily recognizable.
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The Blue 11 dining experience is about surprises, engaging the senses and high-quality food. The first dish for my 11-course tasting menu was reconstructed kallaloo with seared scallops, steamed mussels, seared grouper and breadfruit.
An emerald green sauce surrounded the fish and served on a pearly oval plate. I love the leafy texture and bitter, nutty flavor of kallaloo, but I didn’t recognize it on my plate. One bite and the savory flavor of the vegetable mixed with the fish and breadfruit exploded in my mouth.
Each serving was small, but I was almost bursting by the time I tasted the sixth. An hour later, as I took a bite of the eleventh dish of a homemade donut with chocolate and caramel sauce and banana caramel ice cream, I felt like I had gone on a tasty culinary tour of St. Thomas.
About More Than Caribbean Spice
Chef John Greenway takes a more direct but equally delicious approach to his native cuisine. His Island Flavor restaurant has been a mainstay since 1997, beloved by locals and visitors alike. “Caribbean food isn’t just about spice; it’s about the entire process,” he explains. “It’s about the flavors, the preparation, the plating, the whole vibe.”
Indeed, Island Flavor showcases Caribbean culture in every way, from the ingredients used to the reggae soundtrack that flows from the patio. Greenway is in the process of opening up another venture that reflects traditional Caribbean food culture—Rock City Rotisserie and Soup ‘Ah Bowl food truck with his aunt.
“The Caribbean has a big soup culture. We eat soup year-round, and freshly roasted chicken is also important, so I figured I’d combine the two,” he says. The truck will roll out at the end of the year. In the meantime, Island Flavor is packed every day of the week.
You’ll see the line winding out the door as soon as you arrive at the restaurant across from the St. Thomas cruise port. The buffet-style eatery offers a big selection of local favorites such as honey-glazed salmon, pineapple jerk chicken and shrimp in Creole sauce that sell out quickly, so the earlier you arrive, the better.
The menu changes daily, but there are always seafood, meat and poultry options. I entered the airy establishment and was overwhelmed with the choices displayed. I opted for the tropical chicken wings, mixed vegetables, fried plantains and garlic mash potatoes because my Virgin Islands tour guide insisted that I would regret not ordering the buttery side dish.
My eyes widened as I watched heaping portions fill the tray for a “small” serving. With a cup of passionfruit ginger tea and coconut rum cake with walnuts piled on my platter, I walked outside to the sunny dockside patio and proceeded to have a party with my taste buds.
Everything was expertly seasoned with fresh herbs and the flavors blended perfectly. I savored the meal as I watched toddlers happily playing against the ocean waves at the dock shaded by palm trees. I could only eat half of the generous portion and boxed up the rest for another meal. With a full stomach and the sun caressing my skin, I felt like I had the ultimate island culinary experience.