I must admit that I’m not well versed when it comes to Caribbean food. But I have a feeling that all of that is going to change now that I have experienced Michelle’s Caribbean Cuisine. The restaurant is located inside the Horsefeathers building on Connecticut Street on the city’s West Side. A few days ago I decided to venture in with my dad, to look around and see what they had. It turned out that there was a heated deli case full of freshly prepared foods that looked truly delectable. We browsed over the curry chicken, the tamarin chicken, and the stewed chicken (that really didn’t look too stewed, thankfully), and decided that we wanted to try it all. We also opted for the yellow rice, the veggies (a bit like pickled slaw, which didn’t suit my Americanized palate), and the pineapple potato pie.
First of all, I’m going to go in reverse for a moment. As much as the pineapple potato pie should have been eaten last, after trying one bite of it I couldn’t help but finish it off. It was the star of the meal for me because it was so soothing, tasty and rather unusual. At the same time, the tamarin chicken was absolutely delectable and my favorite of the three. Not to say that the curry and stewed selections were anything short of delicious. Chef Marlene Bernard is a whiz when it comes to the perfect preparation of meats, and each of the chicken dishes literally fell off the bone, and were as tender as all get out. Did I mention the pineapple potato pie? Out of this world is all I can say – I can’t get it out of my mind.
The owners of this little slice of Caribbean life are a mother-daughter team, and as far as I can tell, this is one talented family that is here to show Buffalo what Caribbean food is all about. The restaurant is named after co-owner Grace Hanes’ daughter who unfortunately passed away before she could open up her own dream restaurant. It was Grace and Taahira (Michelle’s sister) who carried the torch for Michelle.
When I spoke to these three ladies, they explained that their homeland of Trinidad is a virtual meting pot when it comes to cuisine. There is nothing quite like Trinidad food, mostly because there are so many influences – East Indian, African, Spanish and even Chinese. And you can taste it all in the menu items! “In Trinidad, we have access to so many spices,” Taahira told me. “So we are able to create dishes from ingredients from all over the world. In Trinidad we spend our time “liming away” (hanging out) with friends and family, cooking and sharing dishes with one another – a lime is a lime regardless of time.”
One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to ethnic restaurants is when I ask for a “homeland” drink and I am served a Coke. I knew that I was really on to something when Marlene handed me a drink called sorrel (a type of fruit simmered with bay leaves, cloves, etc.). The drink was fantastic and was a pleasure to wash down all of the food options that were presented to us – we tried a bit of everything, including one of the current rolls that my dad refused to share (I had to sneak a bite). By the time I was finished with my meal it was nothing but “heavy manners” (the state of being full) and more liming around with these three wonderful ladies who want nothing more than to introduce people to the flavors of the islands on the West Side.
This is the trio’s first restaurant venture, and hopefully others join us on this culinary adventure that will be changing from week to week. Additional menu items that will appear from time to time include pelau (a version of jambalaya), macaroni pie, smoke turkey soup, dhal pourie roti, and bassup-shut.
I can’t wait to go back and try some more of this wholesome Island cooking that is being prepared by a team of fun-loving, down home cooking, sweethearts that are happy to sit and chat about life, and talk food with anyone who can appreciate what good eating is all about.