Haitian flavors are cookin' at new Caribbean Cuisine restaurant in Evansville – Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The food of the Caribbean is full of excitement: spices and herbs, fruity chiles, exotic fruits and vegetables, rice and beans and even pasta and potato salads with unique flavors. Most adventurous diners are familiar with the curries and allspice-scented jerk marinades of Jamaica, and the citrusy flavors of Cuba and the Central American coast have made local inroads lately.
Now we have another new Caribbean cuisine to sample — the hearty, homey dishes of Haiti are offered at Caribbean Cuisine on Kentucky Avenue, which opened quietly in November.
Four partners run the business, all originally from Haiti. Meldy Devallon, Lovelie Francois and Frensen and Lorvens Cede came together to offer a taste of home for Evansville’s growing Haitian population and anyone else who enjoys the food of the Islands.
Devallon came up with the idea and brought friends together to make it happen.
“What brought me together with my partners is that Lovelie can cook. She can really cook,” he said. “All my family lives in South Florida and Miami, but in my teen years, I was in Job Corps in Kentucky. After I graduated from high school, I needed a trade and thought I’d work on cars or something. Evansville was the closest city, and I decided to come here because the cost of living in Florida is so high. So I’ve lived in the area since 2013.”
Devallon has had several restaurant jobs and loves cooking and food, and he missed his favorite dishes from the Haitian community where he grew up.
“When I came here there wasn’t any of the food we like — the Caribbean and African foods,” he said. “My dream was one day I want to make something where I can serve those comfortable foods. There’s a lot of Haitians and Dominicans and Africans here, and the Haitian and African foods use similar seasoning.”
Some examples are Maggi seasoning, a dark brown liquid flavor enhancer similar to soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles are used to add fruity heat and punch to dishes, although by no means are all the dishes hot and spicy. It’s more of an accent.
Rice and beans are cooked together with spices to make a universal protein-rich side dish that soaks up sauce, and plantains — the big starchy bananas becoming more familiar in Evansville — are a staple. Thick slices are cooked until soft, smashed into patties and cooked until crisp, just like Cuban tostones.
A unique hallmark of Haitian food is that meats are often braised or simmered in flavorful liquids and then quickly fried for a crisp exterior before serving.
Devallon and Francois first thought of doing a food truck because there would be less overhead, but Francois wanted a brick and mortar location.
Devallon said he learned of this location after talking to his barber, who has a shop next door to the building.
“We had to fix it up a little, but it is a good spot,” he said.
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The menu at Caribbean Cuisine is small but solid. Every day, find oxtail stew and spiced simmered/fried chicken and pork shoulder. Other specials that have been offered include whole fried red snapper, turkey stew and simmered okra. Smaller portions of each are offered at a lower price point.
On weekends, find beef and vegetable soups and a specialty dish of lalo or jute leaves, a green similar to spinach, simmered with spices and served with rice and pureed black beans.
The side dishes are a lot of fun. Everything is accompanied by the lightly spiced rice with red beans. Fried plantains are wonderful topped with an innocent-looking tangy “slaw” called pikliz. Beware, however, those orange strips aren’t all carrot. Habanero chiles give this relish a powerful, lip-tingling heat.
Potato and beet salad is a pretty bright pink color and has a mild, earthy flavor.
Finally, the Haitian macaroni and cheese is different from the American version and very delicious. Penne pasta is cooked and baked with cheese, mayonnaise and strips of mild pickled red peppers. The texture is drier, but the pasta is soft and soaked with flavor.
Watch the Facebook page at facebook.com/Caribbean-Cuisine-102346144564315 for more specials.
Caribbean Cuisine is located at 1010 S. Kentucky Ave., Unit c, just south of the intersection with Washington Avenue.
Phone: (812) 303-0631
Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Caribbean Cuisine reports that it is wheelchair accessible. Note that parking is on the opposite side of Kentucky Avenue.