Caribbean cuisine is as distinct as the languages and cultures throughout the region, and the foods of the 7,000 islands that comprise the Caribbean seem destined to be eaten on sunny days and in warmer weather like now. While Charlotte has many food emporiums of those island nations with direct flights from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, other islands are without representatives in the culinary community here. One of my favorites is the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago, the most southern of the string of islands dotting the Caribbean, and the culinary nexus of Caribbean and Indian cuisines.
Last year, the only Trini takeout here closed up shop. But in February 2010, Darryl and Gloria Ramjohn, both natives of Trinidad, opened the 150-seat Twilight Caribbean Restaurant and Bar in the University area. During the evenings, Twilight Caribbean is most definitely a bar complete with DJs and a pool table. The interior is scruffy, and much of the attention was given to the large rounded bar. But the enterprising Ramjohns are pursuing a culinary path with the taste memories of the dishes they grew up with, hoping the dining public will follow.
The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago is famously blessed with spectacular fruits and spices melded to a strong Indian influence, since immigrants from that country, especially the west coast of India, arrived en masse as guest workers. Add to this blend other Caribbean dishes such as Jamaican jerks, and rice and peas (beans), and you have the cuisine of Trinidad.
Twilight's menu is crammed with family recipes from Trinidad with a few American favorites mixed in. Gloria Ramjohn heads the kitchen crew and has three of her countrymen working with her to produce "authentic" foods. Thus, all rotis are made to order, including Buss-Up-Shut, Trinidad's most renowned culinary contribution. This rustic paratha, the size of a large burrito if stretched out, is served here in its traditional ripped-up bunch. This slightly dry Buss-Up is used to scoop up curries and other dishes. The coco bread, on the other hand, is hot and slightly sweet. Even sweeter is a side of sautéed plantains.
Curried shrimp is modestly portioned but immodestly rich in flavor. The lusciously spicy jerk chicken (dark meat) is a still life of Caribbean flavors with meat so tender it falls from the bone onto its bed of even spicier rice and peas, flecked with bits of thickly cut steamed cabbage, peppers and carrots.
Sandwiches are burrito-like in heft. A series of roti wraps are offered: curried chicken, beef, shrimp, potato, goat and jerk chicken. The chicken can be ordered with or without the bones. The menu cautions that the goat roti has bones and is only wrapped upon request.
On Saturdays, the kitchen creates a series of Trini street foods, including aloo pie, elongated pieces of fried dough filled with piquant mashed potatoes; doubles, fried bread filled with curried chickpeas; and phulourie, a bevy of small fried balls. Also available is house-made mauby, a root-based drink similar to root beer but not as sweet and has an after bite.
Make no mistake: The primary business at Twilight is the bar. Yet you can have quite a meal of these home-cooked dishes from Trinidad. That alone makes the place worth exploring.