Our plan to sail on the Tiko Tiko fell through when not enough people signed up for today’s cruise. No problem–Captain Philippe rescheduled us for the next day and he already has enough guests so we’re on.
We headed for Grand Case, the reputed gastronomic capital of Saint Martin and only a few miles from our villa. There must be three dozen small French and Italian restaurants, all with good reputations (and prices to match), but we are hunting for a different trophy: the Talk of the Town Too, a lolo. (There's some controversy about the term "Lolo." Some say that it ” means “locally owned, locally operated,” a name that does not do TTT justice.Others say they refer to the barrels used to cook the food.) In any case, lolos are mom ‘n’ pop street cafes. No frills, no table cloths, no perky waitresses, just basic, tasty food.
There are four lolos situated next to each other on Grand Case’s main street. Each of them is grillling ribs and chicken when we walk up. We chose Talk of the Town Too on the basis of its reputation, which we later decided is well earned. A cook endures the heat and smoke from grills made from barrels. She is strategically situated next to the street so no one can avoid inhaling the fragrant smoke and smell of grilling meat. The ocean breeze makes the smoke swirl around the picnic tables arranged under the sheltered roof and a dozen or so crock pots contain side dishes on a table behind her.
We made our way to a table not too far from the grill and placed our order: grilled shrimp salad for the Admiral; ribs, curry rice, and fried plantains for me. We both ordered a johnny cake, a slightly sweet fried dough and, of course, a Carib. As we wait for our food we see tourists and locals gravitating toward TTT and its competitors, unable to resist the aroma from the charcoal and the drippings that sizzle when they hit the coals. Modern man reconnects with his primeval gastronomic roots. Let the salivation begin.
The johnnycake arrives first. It is absolutely delicious, but it’s just a teaser. The main course is outstanding. Her grilled shrimp and my ribs are very plain: no sauce, no spice, just the flavor from the smoke. I realize that it has been years since I’ve eaten grilled meat with absolutely nothing on it. It may be time to rethink my grilling strategy. The curry rice and fried plantains are equally tasty. I need to try these two dishes at home. More importantly, I need to come back here soon and often.
We are simple people. We enjoy a good meal at a fine restaurant like everyone else. But truth be told, there is something so much more real about eating food prepared by cooks who use nothing but the basics. No sauces, no recipes, no elaborate dishes. Just simple seasonings on some meat, poultry or fish, vegetables or rice flavored with simple spices. Add a cold beer and you have a lolo.