Many times, summertime fare relies more on freshness than frills. Think flaky white fish with a touch of lemon juice and loads of farm stand veggies on the side.
But in the Caribbean, where the weather is warm pretty much year-round, the chefs favor loads of flavor and savory dishes. The spices often make the food taste as hot as the sun feels. That doesn’t mean the dishes come sans produce. Fried plantains are a favorite side, and citrus-based salsas are common ways to add a touch of sweetness to a spicy dish.
Cooking that evokes the white sands and bold flavors of the Caribbean is welcome on a bad day (or any day). And luckily, plenty of Long Island restaurants are serving Caribbean food that can make even a working lunch feel like a tiny luxury. Add one or more of these sun-soaked spots to your (close-by) summertime travels.
Ginger Bites Haitian Bistro, Huntington Station
A red brick interior and tropical plants on each small table set the stage for a Caribbean-inspired experience at this small North Shore restaurant. The Sunday brunch is worth checking out for a unique twist on the favorite Long Island meal. The prix-fixe meal comes complete with two mimosas or sangria. Popular eats include Haitian eggs and sweet plantain waffles made with coconut milk and a stuffed Caribbean omelet. For dinner, indulge in a traditional Caribbean meal of a protein (chicken, turkey, griot or legume) with a side of rice, beans and fried plantains. The desserts are worth saving room for and include pineapple mango or coconut ice cream.
Duns River Lounge, Rockville Center
This colorful Rockville Center restaurant allows diners to visit Jamaica without leaving Nassau. The coconut shrimp is sweet as can be, the jerk chicken is moist and the cocktails can be ordered to-go. The Rum Punch, made with pomegranate and lime, is a favorite.
The same team that brought Rumba to Hampton Bays opened Rhum on Main Street Patchogue in 2016. Pull up a swing (instead of a seat) at the rooftop bar. It is a breezy — and admittedly somewhat hipster — spot to sip a fruity libation, like the Caribbean Rum Bunch or a Bays Mojito garnished with fresh blackberries and mint. As for grub, the Island burger, topped with jack cheese and grilled pineapple, is both sweet and savory, while the kale salad tossed with Reggiano cheese and peanuts is a lighter option.
Rumba, Hampton Bays
Accessible only by a boat ride from sister restaurant Cowfish, Rumba’s rum drinks, unpretentious vibes and lively reggae tunes have made it a popular spot to spend a summer evening over the years. The sweet chili-ginger soy glaze gives the Dominican ribs an added kick, and the savory slow-roasted pork taco is a fast-casual meal that tastes positively upmarket.
Shadees Jamaican Restaurant, Riverhead
This no-fuss Main Street restaurant serves up big flavor on the cheap. Step inside, and the smell of the sweet plantains will immediately put your mind in an Island state of mind. There are rotating daily specials, like jerk chicken salad and spicy BBQ wings. Favorite mainstays include chicken or beef patties with coco bread.
Coal House Grill, Baldwin
This Jamaican restaurant is like a Caribbean escape in Nassau. The ackee and sailfish appetizer sticks to the ribs in all the right ways. Made with salted cod and ackee, an island fruit, it makes for a savory start to the meal. The flavorful oxtail is served in a sauce of carrots and butter beans, and the citrus mango Chakri jerk chicken is a tad sweet and spicy, courtesy of a sweet mango salsa. Less adventurous types can go with the cheeseburger deluxe or chicken finger platters.
Jammin Jerk, West Babylon
This food truck typically sets up shop on Straight Path but can bring the taste of the Caribbean right to your backyard courtesy of its catering menu. The patties (beef, chicken or veggie) are known for being consistently on-point, and the side of Mac ’n cheese is a hidden gem of Long Island. Catering options include approachable appetizers like wings and fried dumplings and jerk salmon.