So what's the problem here?
Well, the double-edged sword for me is Charlotte Amalie. I'm not going to tread this ground again because I've already done so elsewhere. However, for the sake of bringing you up to speed and to be as concise as possible, simply put:
I love the historical aspects of Charlotte Amalie. I dig its food; it's blend of cultures. I am captivated by the very ground its built upon, knowing so many notable figures have tread upon that very same patch of soil.
This area could be so historically relevant and a tourist-dollar generater (along the lines of South Street Seaport in New York City) if they only used some imagination. But they don't. So I go and immerse myself in the elements I enjoy, ignoring those I do not.
But getting back to my point, all-in-all, I really like St. Thomas immensely. But that's more than I can say for another notable fellow...
You see, back in 1493 while on his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus discovered the island of St. Thomas and was apparently, less than impressed.
So underwhelmed was the famed explorer, he decided to forego an extended visit, and instead, sailed on to Puerto Rico.
The wandering Mr. C never fully appreciated the many wonderful safe harbors afforded by the island, and due to his oversight, were left unguarded by the Spanish.
That finally came about in 1671 when the Danish West India Company received a charter from King Christian V to occupy and take possession of St. Thomas for the creation of plantations. The charter stipulated that the Danish government would supply the company with as many male convicts as necessary to work the plantations and as many women, who were under arrest, as needed.
Now I don't boast the talents of Edgar Cayce, nor even approach those of the Amazing Karnak, but do you really have to be a psychic to see what's wrong with this picture? Exactly.
It didn't take long for officials to realize convicts did not necessarily make the best laborers, particularly on an island filled with cutthroats, mutineers, thieves, and pirates. And instead of confronting the problem at hand, which was ridding the island of its rogue element, they instead relied on African slaves for labor.
Towards the latter part of the 18th-century, many realized that the future of St. Thomas lay in the development of the area surrounding its natural harbor. And in 1781, four artisans took it upon themselves to plant the seedlings of a more developed, permanent settlement when they built homes next to the new Fort Christian. They were also granted licenses to operate inns. And with those four homes and four inns, the fledgling town was dubbed Taphuus.
Period descriptions say it was a "lively place", full of excitement. Closer to the truth, it was a den of pirates, freebooters, and scoundrels, and a safe haven for anyone askew of the law; a place where almost any pleasure was available.
The town was frequented by many buccaneers of note, and there are more than a few stories interweaving both Blackbeard and Bluebeard with St. Thomas, and in truth, both actually had strongholds built in Taphuus.
In the late 1800s through early 1900s, a series of several major natural disasters including hurricanes, fires and a tsunami devastated Charlotte Amalie and left it in need of rebuilding. However, years passed before the old warehouses that once stored goods for trade would be rebuilt to house the boutiques, stores and restaurants that line the streets today.
And it was those very same streets I intended to hit as soon as my feet alit upon the hot cobblestone; crossing the same stretch of ground where Blackbeard once spent his pieces of eight with reckless abandon.
Gladys' serves up some of my favorite Caribbean fare, always prepared authentically, and as an added bonus, she makes one heck of a potent hot sauce that keeps me salivating for days to come.
Her menu is diverse and offers lots of great options for the beginning "foodie" on up. It's a stop I never fail to make ever since I first discovered it about five or six years ago.
On this particular day, I was enjoying the harbor immensely; casually strolling its perimeter and absorbing deep breaths of salty breeze beneath sharp stabs of sunlight dancing between palm fronds.
I am a dreamer by nature and a lover of history, and when you couple those two qualities, it means I can zone out and head for other realms at any given moment.
And for a couple of moments there I was definitely "a swarthy, bold and immoral seafaring rapscallion, ready to pounce upon those rascally landlubbers with piratical disregard, holding in contempt their law-abiding, meek-minded townspeople ways"... and then I'd wake up.
Such is life when you hit middle age and find the only thing that separates the "you" in current form and the "you" at thirteen, is the amount of body hair you've accrued and a few aches and pains.
On the heels of my jaunt into the hills and a visit to the nautical artifact shop I previously mentioned, I resumed my original plan to pop into Gladys' for lunch.
The area Gladys' is located within is a labyrinth of brick and cobblestone walkways, in some spots so narrow, you could stretch your arms and nearly touch both sides. This is the area I described above where those 18th-century waterfront warehouses were located when the town was expanding.
This labyrinth is one of my favorite places to visit in the city. Yes, there are shops located in each historic edifice, but they are tastefully done without compromising the integrity of the buildings' authenticity; unlike their "on the street" brethren.
As usual in St. Thomas, the sun was quite hot during midday and bottled water was just not cutting it as a thirst quencher. I spotted an establishment called, Greengo's Caribbean Cantina that was set in another of the ancient warehouses.
But naturally curious, I stuck my head inside the historic building to glance about the interior.
Inside, I was struck by the fact that this place didn't even look like a converted warehouse - it moreso looked like one of the original taverns that helped give Taphuus the reputation it so rightly earned.
I looked about in wonder and almost imagined I saw Blackbeard's flaming beard raise a mug in my direction, shouting, "Aye!" And I could have sworn I saw Bluebeard toss a gold doubloon on the bar and demand, "Get that lad a grog!"
I sat a few moments sipping my brew, just soaking in the atmosphere. I was really lost in the setting. However, it was such a beautiful day and there was such a magnificent breeze blowing in off the harbor, I took my brew and sat at the last outdoor table.
The day was just perfect. I was admiring the stonework of the building when the waitress came out and handed me a menu. I noticed it was a menu with typical South-of-the-Border style food - tacos, quesadillas, taquitos - in other words, nothing I couldn't have gotten stateside.
As the last few droplets of my Carib trickled down, I flipped the menu over and looked over an array of drinks; concoctions of all kinds. One that really caught my eye was called a "Caribarita"; meaning - A Carib Margarita.
Well, okay, Bluebeard was back - "Bring that lad a Caribarita"!
My Caribarita arrived and I could only smirk. I guess it's a drink intended for two because it came with two straws, Well, this buccaneer wasn't sharing, so I hiked up my britches, raised a toast to Blackbeard, Bluebeard, Captain Morgan, Admiral Benbow and anyone else I could think of and down the hatch! (Really, I sipped it, but that makes for one lame pirate tale.)
About that time, I was smelling some really good odors emanating from the kitchen. And I was good until I saw a plate come out to someone at the next table which smelled great, and casually asked the waitress what it was. She answered good-naturedly, "a pork burrito. Would you like one?"
"Well... okay," was my feeble response.
Now I did the best I could to convince myself that I was going to compare this brand of South-of-the-Border bar food to the brand of South-of-the-Border bar food back home and that it was all being done in the name of Foodidude. But that's a lie. Pure and simple, I was hungry. I tried to rationalize my order knowing Gladys' waited but a few blocks away but it was futile. I was hungry and it was an impulse buy.
My burrito arrived and I was quite impressed. It had to be pushing 2 pounds and came with a terrific sauce.
I bit into it and the pulled pork was moist and tender, and the sauce added a wonderful element to it. In truth, it was a step above average bar fare and was actually quite good.
However, now that my Caribarita was nearing completion, I decided to stop eating about 1/3 of the way through as I really couldn't imagine leaving Charlotte Amalie without a visit to and a taste of Gladys'.
And this was not a casual stroll by any means. It is a long, arduous hike up a nearly vertical street. In fact, when you arrive, a gift shop actually sells tee shirts that read, "I survived the climb to the Synagogue." It is definitely not for the faint of heart.
And before you ask, no I am not Jewish. I took the trip because its the only way I could enjoy a guilt-free trip to Gladys'.
Truthfully, anything on the menu is terrific and if you use her homemade hot sauce, it raises the taste exponentially, at least in my world of spicy disregard.
To be frank, the last thing (besides rice pudding) I'd ever order off of any menu is chicken. I'm just not a fan of the bird at all these days. I'll eat it, but somewhat reluctantly.
But quite out of character, when the waitress took my order, Curried Chicken just rolled off my tongue. Rather than change my initial order, I decided to roll with it. That's how I roll... uh, do things.
So two hours after my Caribarita and Burrito, I'm again walking the alleys which lead to Gladys'.
I arrive, take a seat, drink some cool water and look over the menu. For me, the greatest things on this menu is Curried Goat and Kallaloo, but I get those each visit. I've also had the Stewed Oxtails once before and they are absolutely terrific. But I wanted something different this time.
For those who are not familiar with the term, conch are actually large sea snails that live in those beautiful shells you put to your ear to hear the ocean. However, they're not so beautiful out of their shell but are so delectable delicious!
It strikes me as ironic how they are so wildly popular in the Caribbean, yet were just as wildly popular on my Italian holiday dinner table when growing up. It is indeed, a small world.
I also enjoyed the Curried Chicken immensely, and of particular note were the delectable plantains served with the meal. The kitchen outdid themselves once again.
To continue, once the conch are pulled from their shells, they are cleaned, minced and cooked till tender.
To make a fritter, they are then blended with corn meal and seasonings and fried golden brown. I like to view them as the Hush Puppy of the Caribbean.
Served with a terrific dipping sauce, as expected they were done perfectly, and with a dab of hot sauce, I was on cloud nine.
In leaving, there were two things I was certain of; one - Gladys' is still my favorite restaurant on the island, and two - I was one tired little pirate.
If you'd like to read my complete review on Gladys' Cafe, you can do so right here.
To be continued...