Diaspora

Griot, legume and oxtail: Local restaurants serve Haitian food throughout St. Lucie County – TCPalm

Haiti may be 800 miles from the Treasure Coast, but the Caribbean island nation is represented locally, especially in St. Lucie County.
Nearly 50% of the U.S. Haitian-born population resides in Florida. Of them, 2.7% live on the Treasure Coast. Of them, 2.4% live in St. Lucie County.
The U.S. Census population data may explain why there are at least eight Haitian restaurants here — five in Fort Pierce and three in Port St. Lucie — but none that TCPalm could find in Martin or Indian River counties.
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Haitian food is derived from French and African cuisine with influences and culinary techniques from the native Taino and Spanish colonists. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was one of France’s wealthiest colonies, producing sugar and coffee that depended on enslaved Africans for labor.
The Creole cuisine of Haiti is similar to that of its neighboring Caribbean countries with a spicy blend of rice, meats and vegetables, except it’s more peppery.
You can find almost every kind of protein in Haitian food from conch, herring and whole fish to beef, goat, oxtail, turkey, guinea fowl, cow feet and other offal. Meats are often fried or stewed with spices such as jerk and curry. Common fruits include citrus and plantains, and vegetables include okra, lalo (jute leaves), onions and peppers.
Perhaps the most interesting fusion of foods is Haiti’s penchant for hot dogs chopped up in spicy spaghetti.
Haitian restaurant owners on the Treasure Coast are natives who hail from the “Pearl of the Antilles,” so their food is authentic.
Most said their two most popular menu items, overwhelmingly, are griot and legume. Griot, or griyo, are pork cubes simmered in chiles and citrus and then fried. Legume is a thick meat and vegetable stew, but recipes vary and sometimes include seafood.
Here’s where to find Haitian food on the Treasure Coast:
Chef Joseph Lorrius opened a small market in 1991 where he sold griot (fried pork) and fried chicken. When a larger market opened down the road, he needed to compete by opening a restaurant next door in 2007.
“I’m proud of myself, being there for so long,” said Lorrius, who left Haiti in 1973 and moved to Vero Beach in 1980. “If it wasn’t for the food, I would not be there.”
One of his most popular items is legume, a thick stew of beef and crab served with white rice or black rice and beans. 
What sets his food apart? He’s a chef and knows how to cook all kinds of food, he said.
Belizaire Claufene, who opened the restaurant about three years ago, is known for her savory chicken and rice dishes, said Manager Marie Marcy.
Regular customer Abdias Joseph, 30, of Fort Pierce, said Alabon is his favorite Haitian restaurant because the food is not only delicious but consistent, and meals come with a side salad and plantains. 
“They always have nice music, a little bit of a club vibe and it’s a good date night place,” he said.
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Ginelle “Gigi” Fils-Aime opened JBG’s Restaurant in November 2020 in the former location of two previously popular restaurants: Lenzi’s Diner, which closed a year ago, andGranny’s Kitchen, a soul food eatery that closed in 2018 after 43 years.
Fils-Aime, who left Haiti in 1992, first living in Fort Pierce and now Port St. Lucie, also offers “American” food, including breakfast, cooked by a former Lenzi’s Diner employee.
The most popular Haitian dishes are griot (fried pork) with fried plantains, rice and beans, as well as legume (meat and vegetable stew), but she doesn’t use shellfish to avoid food allergies. Other popular items are akra (malanga fritters) and lalo (jute leaf stew).
“It’s the taste” that sets her food apart, Fils-Aime said. “What I’ve heard from people is we’re the best.”
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Luna and Santhonax Beausejour opened their restaurant in the Peacock Arts District in 2015.
“If you ever visit Haiti in the Caribbean,” she said, “our delicious cuisines will remind you of the different taste and flavors from each bite you take.”
Their most popular dishes are legume (beef and vegetable stew) and griot (fried pork) with fried plantains or rice and beans. The bakery serves hot, fresh bread as well as homemade fish, beef and chicken patties and coconut and peanut brittles.
“Our dishes are different because we put a lot of love and flavor to all our dishes that we prepare for all our customers,” she said, “and your taste buds won’t regret it.”
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Schela Toussaint Ocean owns this hole-in-the-wall, which has a dining room but specializes in takeout orders. There’s no menu — just the standard Haitian fare.
This takeout-only restaurant opened in 2009 and featured oxtail, griot (fried pork) legume (meat and vegetable stew) and pikliz (spicy, pickled vegetable relish).
Dess and Dany Desir, who took ownership in 2019, added fried or stewed fish, fried goat, stewed spinach and black rice. 
“We represent the Creole culture that consists of cooking traditions and practices from the Caribbean,” Dess Desir said. “What makes us different is the passion and consistency we apply in preparing the food and the connection we have with our customers.”
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Ballaguel and Magalie Charles opened their restaurant in 2018.
The regular menu features oxtail, conch, goat, fish, turkey, griot (fried pork), stewed okra, legume (meat and vegetable stew), lalo (jute leaf stew) and ragou pye bef (cow feet stew).
Weekend specials include fritters, bouillon, bega, pumpkin soup and macaroni au gratin.
The restaurant includes a bakery featuring pistache griye (roasted nuts), dous cocoye (coconut fudge) and handmade patties.
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Haitian native George Sylvin opened his eatery in 2018 in a space that includes a walk-up counter to order food and large dining areas with bars.
The menu includes all the Haitian staples: fish, chicken, turkey, oxtail, griot (fried pork), lambi (conch), kabrit (goat), legume (meat and vegetable stew), lalo (jute leaf stew) and bouyon (meat and vegetable soup).
Check out the menu in the photo gallery below.
Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Follow her on Twitter at@TCPalmLaurie or Facebook atfaceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.

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