Have you noticed that there are so many more cooking and food related shows on TV with the Cooking Channel and Food Network? Do you see how ethnic food is making a stamp on the current food trend scene? On the Caribbean front, it has always been some sort of fried stuff, palm leaf, umbrella, a splash of fruit and walla, Caribbean Cuisine. Eden Eats Show on the Cooking Channel opened up the world to Trinidadian Cuisine at Tara’s Roti Shop in Tampa, FL. Most Caribbean cuisine has heavy African or Latin influences while Trinidadian Cuisine has a heavy dosage of Indian flare. After watching the show, I had to go try this “doubles”.
My beak was still dry from the Orlando Duck Curry Competition. Having picked up a flyer that screamed Miami Carnival, I had to take a trip to Tampa. Tampa, being just over and hour from Orlando, I figured easy drive. Tara’s is located a couple of miles from the University of South Florida. The restaurant is housed in a non descript strip mall. One could easily drive pass. Look closely for the sign on top of the building.
The exterior says nothing about anything. The interior is modest with a very family friendly atmosphere. There are several tables that dot the wide open dining room, which almost feels like a local dance club. Maybe they have fetes (Caribbean parties) in there. To one side of the space is the ordering counter. The counter is manned or “childded” by the most adorable little girl. Child labor? Nah….she is just part of the family. She couldn’t be more that three or four, but she was ready with a pad and pen to take an order. She smiles and winks. I was charmed. Even more charming are the grown ups in there. At the counter is a woman who certainly runs the show. She is charming, witty, knowledgeable and extrudes the best of Caribbean hospitality. The other lady in the kitchen is the jokester. There is a window from the back of the counter to the kitchen through which they hold court. The wonderful banter between customers and kitchen is simply hilarious. Obviously, they are repeat customers and if not, you become part of the conversation in 2 minutes. One can either sit down and dine at the counter, tables, or have food to go. Since I had the doggie and there were no outdoor seating, I choose to go.
Doubles – Seasoned herb bread with channa (chick peas). If there was one item that is uniquely Trini, it is this dish. The bread is made from flour and seasoned with turmeric. Most of the doubles I had before had a yellower color than this. However, this bread was fluffy and soft. The filling is chick peas boiled in a plethora of spices, topped with tamarind sauce. My prior experience with this filling was of a firmer nature, this was looser. Makes for a little messy affair while driving. I asked for the pepper sauce on the side. Would you know I am so glad I did. Wow. Fire! Use at your own discretion. This pepper is blazing.
Bake and Buljull – Flat bread stuffed with salted fish sautéed with chopped onions and tomatoes. The flat bread was soft, tender and graciously delicious. Tomatoes overpowered the salted fish. I would have liked a little more fish. There was ample seasoning but the tomatoes stood front and center.
Stewed Oxtail and Dhal Pouri – I always thought stewed oxtail was brown in color. This was not. Shame on me for not expanding my horizons. This actually had a more curry flavor. Although, the meat was tender but stayed on the bone. The bone was juicy and succulent. Yes, I nawed on the bone really good! Dhal pouri is like a huge flat bread stuffed with chick peas. This dhal pouri was tender and fluffy. The chick peas was seasoned just enough so as not to create a lasting flavor in your stomach.
Duck Curry and Pelau – The duck meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful. This is the only dish in the restaurant where the heat level cannot be adjusted. They make duck curry ONE way. You either handle the heat or not. The curry was well season well balanced and even though the pepper was already there it was not overpowering. Very nice flavors. Pelau is peas and rice steamed in coconut milk. This was a well balanced flavor profile also, the coconut milk was ever so vague. Vegetables were crisp. Overall, this was a very nice dish.
Black Cake – Fruit cake consisting of prunes and raisins soaked in rum. When I say soaked in rum, I am talking about Trinidadian Rum. You do realize that rum is made in the Caribbean and Trinidad holds the title of some of the best rums of the world? Bacardi has nothing on this. Just putting this piece of thing to your face is like taking a shot of Bacardi 151. The alcohol infiltrates your nostrils and gets into your eyes and into your brains. Ok, ok….you get my drift. Simply put, a marvelous piece of the Caribbean. I would make the one and half hour drive again just for this.
Sorrel Drink – This is a concoction made in the restaurant. The sorrel drink is made from boiling the sorrel fruit petals with cinnamon, ginger, and other undisclosed spices depends on who you ask. Any West Indian restaurant worth their salt makes a good sorrel drink. Tara’s Sorrel Drink is strong, bold, and thick. I drank this cup, but since there was a chunk of ice I did not get all the drink. After the ice melted, I added more water and the drink was still refreshing. Amazing taste. Worth the drive.
Tara’s Roti Shop has all the hallmarks of a great family restaurant which delivers food from the heart. This is a sparkling example how restaurants should operate. Produce a great product and be proud to show the world. The Trini culture is showcased well in this part of the world. Another piece of black cake please.