No matter how many of the island’s fine restaurants you visit (and there are plenty of them), a visit to St. Maarten/St. Martin isn’t complete without a meal or two hot from the island’s grill shacks and lolos: grilled lobster from Anguilla or ribs from Brazil; a side order of rice and peas or macaroni and cheese; an ice cold Presidente, Carib, or soda; and, if you’re lucky, Clarissa’s coconut ice cream to finish.
Locally owned and locally operated, these outdoor barbecue spots are one more example of why the Friendly Island is among the culinary stars of the Caribbean. They’re where island residents cook and eat a mouth-watering assortment of Caribbean and Creole delicacies. And, at about $10 or less a person, the bountiful meals are a bargain.
"Lolo or grill-shack dining may not be “fine” dining – the cutlery is plastic and the napkins are paper – but it may just turn out to be one of your most memorable island experiences"
You’ll find grill shacks on both sides of the island; on the French side they are referred to as lolos. In Simpson Bay, Hilma Harris presides over Hilma’s Windsor Castle where salt fish sandwiches on homemade johnnycakes are a specialty. In Cole Bay, look for Johnny B’s. You’ll find Gus’s in Baie Rouge, Rosie’s at Mullet Bay Beach and Enoch’s on a corner of the Marigot market, among many others.
No one knows for sure when the first shacks opened, but they have been around for quite some time. In Grand Case, Cheryl Doussant has run the Rib Shack for more than 34 years. Rosemary’s on the waterfront in Marigot is just as old, and Talk of the Town, also in Grand Case, is not far behind.
Although the friendly staff at each place will tell you their food is the best, the truth is they’re all good. Just find a spot in a wooden booth or at a picnic table and choose from the lengthy menus written on chalkboards or displayed on wooden easels. Generally, menu offerings include barbecued ribs, chicken, tuna, snapper, lobster, mahi-mahi, and other fish; shrimp in garlic sauce or Creole sauce; stuffed crab; conch stew; and a wide range of side dishes, including stuffed, grilled, or fried eggplant, and christophene (chayote) or potato salad. On Saturday, local fish is often on the menu.
The main street in Grand Case, sometimes called “restaurant row” and officially Boulevard de Grand Case, is perhaps the best place to experience the lolos. Half a dozen or more of them are located in the center of town and you can see and smell what’s cooking on the drum grills. And, if you’re lucky enough to be in Grand Case when the “ice cream lady” is there, then you’re in for a special treat. Island resident Clarissa Lake has been selling her homemade ice cream adjacent to the Talk of the Town lolo for about 14 years. She learned to make this all-natural, made-by-hand treat in Haiti and has passed the skill on to her son who sometimes helps her. Chocolate and banana are among her popular flavors, but the all-time favorite is coconut made from fresh coconut milk. Look for her in the evenings.
Lolo or grill-shack dining may not be “fine” dining – the cutlery is plastic and the napkins are paper – but it may just turn out to be one of your most memorable island experiences.