At her Bucktown restaurant Station 6, chef Alison Vega-Knoll has traces of Caribbean influence on her menu, but she doesn’t often cook dishes like pepperpot. It’s a staple dish in Antigua, where the chef and her family lived from 2003 to 2011. She included it in a series of special menus last summer.
“I had never made pepperpot, which is kind of like gumbo — it doesn’t have a roux but it has eggplant and all these things mixed together,” Vega-Knoll says. “I did a seafood pepperpot with lots of vegetables — okra and spinach. And I served it with fungee, which is cornmeal, kind of like polenta, that goes with that.”
Vega-Knoll is again running a six-week Caribbean-themed dinner series. It started July 23 with dishes from the Bahamas. Cuba is featured this week (July 30-Aug. 4) and is followed by Jamaica (Aug. 6-11), Haiti (Aug. 13-18), Puerto Rico (Aug. 20-25) and Antigua (Aug. 27-Sept. 1). Vega will donate 10 percent of sales of the food and rum cocktail specials to the Coral Restoration Foundation, which is based in Florida.
“I love being by the beach,” Vega-Knoll says. “Snorkeling is my favorite thing.”
Last year, Vega used the Caribbean series to raise funds for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Station 6 donated $10,000 to chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, and the donation supported a hydroponic farm, she says.
There’s always something new to try in New Orleans.
The menus feature seafood as well as pork, oxtail and goat. Her Cuban menu includes a fish dish inspired by Cuban-style grilled corn, similar to Mexican elote, or grilled corn on the cob with cheese, mayonnaise, chili powder and lime.
“It has Cotija, but it’s on a whole red snapper,” Vega-Knoll says. “We do a Cuban sandwich for lunch, so I have an aioli. I put lime-chili rub on (the fish). I bake it with Cotija cheese and it came out [of the kitchen] with a vinaigrette on top.”
The Cuban menu also includes a pickled pork and black bean soup served with plantains and a mango, papaya and avocado salsa. For dessert, there’s rum-raisin rice pudding.
Her Jamaican menu includes jerk pork with tamarind glaze, callaloo and roasted sweet potatoes. Conch is difficult to cook because overcooking can make it chewy, so for her conch stew, Vega-Knoll soaks the seafood in milk and poaches it. It is served with a johnnycake.
Some dishes are common throughout the Caribbean and vary by island. Souse is a soup with an almost clear broth. Vega made a hot version with chicken and lime for her Bahamas menu last year. In Antigua, the dish is popular as more of a cold soup with sliced cucumber, she says.
When Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico in September, the monstrous, Category 4 storm destroyed the island’s electrical systems and inf…
Other Caribbean staple items on the weekly menus include Puerto Rican mofongo, made with mashed plantains, a Haitian-style oxtail soup she makes with squash, mirliton and Jamaican roti, which are wraps made with thin, crusty roti.
While New Orleans sometimes is called the northernmost city in the Caribbean, it doesn’t have the abundance of Caribbean cuisine of cities like Miami, Vega-Knoll says.
But more Caribbean restaurants have opened in recent years. Chef Nina Compton is a native of St. Lucia, and her menu at Compere Lapin includes dishes such as goat curry with sweet potato gnocchi. There are several Jamaican restaurants including Boswell’s Jamaican Grill, Coco Hut and 14 Parishes, now open inside Pythian Market. Fritai serves Haitian-style street food at St. Roch Market. In Gretna, Mangu serves Dominican cuisine. Cuban cuisine has long been served at Churros Cafe in Metairie, and Que Rico! Cuban Cafe recently opened in Uptown.
"It used to be that the French drank brandy and Americans drank whiskey, but everyone drank rum."
Roasted pork, medianoches and Cuban favorites are draws at Que Rico! Cuban Cafe in Uptown.