Everybody knows that the most important thing you do while on vacation is to eat. That is of course if you have a passion for experiencing the local fare paired with top regional wines and fruity cocktails. Part two of my tales from The Bahamas is all about the food and wine that make this island go around and around. Not that I was surprised, but I can say that my 4-day epicurean adventure was one of the best I have had in a while.
These days the thoughts of food and wine tend to dominate my mind whenever I step outside my door. So it was no different stepping into another country, in fact, they were more intense due to the excitement of the unknown. The food and wine scene in The Bahamas is just as rich it is here in the U.S. or any other country for that matter. You have creativity, innovation, seasonal ingredients, fresh seafood, world-renowned chefs, top sommeliers and customer service that goes the extra mile.
My first meal on the night of my arrival set the stage for the rest of the trip. Indigo Café was a short drive from our hotel, The Sheraton, and had that carefree island yet quaint vibe to it. The dining area houses an art gallery with pieces from Brent Malone who is the father of the owner Marysa. Diners are treated to a mix of international dishes that have garnered great reviews. I happened to be there on a Thursday night which meant I missed the action that takes place on Fridays and Saturdays with the steel pans or other musical artists brought in to get the weekend going. I selected the Italian sausage pasta which was very flavorful. The shrimp and vegetable spring rolls were also a hit. For dessert, of course I had to try the island’s signature dish, guava duff, which takes hours to make and consists of dough with usually guava pulp and other ingredients that are then boiled. It is served with a sauce and paired with a beer or glass of “switcha” or mixture of lemon, sugar and water which I did not have. It was definitely rich in texture with mild hints of the guava in my opinion. After being full from my main entrée, it was hard to eat an entire slice. But I couldn’t leave The Bahamas without trying it.
Seafood is in abundance in The Bahamas with conch being the star. A shellfish with white meat that in my opinion can resemble crabmeat, you can enjoy conch anyway you want it on the island. I had the deep fried or “cracked conch,” as an appetizer on a few occasion and other preparation methods include conch chowder, conch stew, conch salad and conch fritters.
Take a short drive across the bridge from Paradise Island to have lunch at The Poop Deck Restaurant & Bar, voted Nassau’s most outstanding seafood restaurant. The highlight for many seafood lovers is actually selecting their own catch of the day from the iced case. The restaurant’s motto is “you pick it, we cook it.” As you dine on the balcony outside, catch the views of the harbor and water gently rocks the boats. Enjoy one of their tropical drinks and sit back and relax because at that moment life is truly good.
Want an authentic Bahamian dinner? The country’s People-to-People program should be high on your list before leaving home. As mentioned in last week’s article, dinner in the home of the Jacksons was the highlight of my trip. Mother Muggy Jackson lead a crew of friends and family who prepared an outstanding feast. Starters included “conchy” conch fritters with an Eleuthera spicy sauce, Andros baked crab and island chips with a mango salsa. My favorites for the main course included the Calypso cabbage, Junkanoo chicken and Bahamian macaroni and cheese. Now, this mac and cheese was amazing with a delayed kick of cayenne or other spice that just brought the flavors on home.
Continue your true Bahamian culinary experience with a stop Arawak Cay which is locally known as “Fish Fry.” Grab a bite from vendors serving made-to-order dishes or stop into restaurants such as Twin Brothers Seafood & Steak House or Goldie’s Conch House owned by Kirwood “Goldie” Evans who opened the place 19 years ago. Pay him a visit on Saturday night and be entertained by the locals getting their karaoke on. While taking in the tunes and eventually singing a few myself, I enjoyed jerk chicken that was served with rice and peas and a house tropical drink. The cracked conch was also great here too.
If you want to experience the fine side of Bahamian dining, I have two recommendations – Café Matisse and Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant. The first, Café Matisse, is tucked away from the main tourists’ attractions on Bay Street and has been noted as Nassau’s most picturesque Italian restaurant. The menu changes every three months to keep things fresh and new so most likely I won’t be able to order the same thing again if I return. The wine list was impressive and boasted winemakers from South Africa, Italy, France, United States, Chile and Argentina. A semillon from France paired perfectly with my Stinco D'agnello Al Forno Con Pure Di Patate or spiced, slow cooked lamb shank and mashed potatoes.
Lastly, dine with grace and elegance at the Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant, the Bahamas and Caribbean’s first restaurant to be awarded five stars for its haute cuisine. Located in a historic 18th-century mansion, owner Enrico Garzaroli has built a family empire since serendipitously buying the property from its owner through an Italian hand gesture meant to say “no.” Garzaroli found out he was the new proud owner by a friend one day and soon he left Italy with his wife and has been in The Bahamas since. Over the years, Garzaroli extended what is now the family business to include Graycliff Organic Coffees, Graycliff Chocolates and Truffles, a Brazilian culinary experience with Humidor Churrascaria and Graycliff Cigar Company. On a given night, watch a gentleman roll Cuban cigars from beginning to end.
I later learned upon my return to California that pastry chef Erika Davis from Culinary Wonders USA is teaming up with the Garzaroli family to open a chocolate salon that will showcase the family’s chocolate and truffle business with tours and hands-on chocolate making for tourists. Looking forward to hearing more as the project nears its opening perhaps later this year or next.
While the food was impressive, in my eyes it was overshadowed by Graycliff’s wine cellar that is the third largest in the world with 275,000 bottles from 15 countries. Their prized possession is a 1727 Rϋdesheimer Apostelwein, “Rheinghau” Region, Bremer Ratskeller that is recorded as the oldest in the world and lists for $200,000. Everyone visiting the cellar is given strict instructions not to disturb the bottle at all which made it even more intriguing.
A walk through the cellar will take you back to a dining room that allows for celebrities like LeBron James and Jay-Z and Beyonce to privately dine alone. Graycliff’s wine cellar is a wine enthusiast’s dream perhaps unknowingly located right in Nassau.
I’ll talk more about Graycliff’s hotel in part 4 of this Bahamian series.
The food and wine did not disappoint at all and really I was just getting started. In just four days, I had a culinary experience that ran the spectrum from a home cooked meal to restaurant fine dining. All equally delicious and all equally worth having over again.
For more adventure in The Bahamas, check out these articles in Cuisine Noir:
“The Bahamas: Islands of Rich Cultural Havens,” click here.
“The Bahamas: A Paradise for Family and Fun,” click here.
“Harbour Island: One of The Bahamas Great Escapes,” click here.
Photo credit: V. Sheree Publishing