Royal Dane Mall West
St. Thomas US Virgin Islands
Mon-Sat 7am-5pm; Sun 8am-3pm
With fond memories and a full belly, I kicked back a second Blackbeard Ale (I guess I liked the first), and said goodbye to Gladys.
She made me promise to stop in again on my next visit to the island. Absurdly (for "naive" I am not), she was the one single vender in the entire town who made me feel like her sole purpose for my returning to St. Thomas was not based squarely on attaining my mainland dollar.
Although, I am absolutely positive that is not the case at all, I am definitely okay with that fact. We all have the right to earn a living.
In my 'hot sauce' digression, I forgot to mention my Conch Fritters - done perfectly; golden brown with succulent conch morsels inside, I thought their one shortcoming was they seemed to be a bit pricey ($12) for four. But then again, conch is expensive wherever you go.
These sauces are not for the faint of heart. Don’t be fooled by her kind and unassuming demeanor - her hot sauce packs a punch and she means business, folks. But to a chili-head like me - WOW!
I would really fear becoming addicted to these tasty condiments (which I easily could!) because outside of her restaurant, they can't be gotten anywhere else, including online. It’s only available in her restaurant.
Now getting back to the menu - I narrowed my choices to one of two options - Stewed Oxtails or Curry Goat. I opted for the latter.
In Trinidad and other eastern Caribbean countries, it generally made with okra and dasheen, or water spinach. There are many variations of callaloo which may include coconut milk, crab, conch, Caribbean lobster, meats, chili peppers, and other seasonings such as chopped onions and garlic.
I was seated at a small table and handed a menu. The black & white checkered tablecloth was decorated with a small vase of colorful bougainvillea and an array of obviously homemade, spicy colorful hot pepper sauces. I smiled and ordered a Blackbeard Ale, whatever that was. Truthfully, as long as it met the criteria of "wet", I'd be happy.
The air conditioned room felt great as I glanced over the menu.
There were quite a few choices - lobster, shrimp, swordfish, and even the house specialty which is hot chicken salad, made with pieces of sautéed breast with red-wine vinegar, pine nuts, and dill. But what drew my attention were the daily specials.
Entering the premises, I was greeted by a woman who's friendliness and kind, gracious smile made me feel welcome at once.
I headed down the hills keeping to the shady spots as best I could, and entered the fray. I popped into a store with sunburn and a dream, and popped out with a nice, white Panama Jack hat.
I sat the hat atop my noggin, thankful for the respite from the sun, and suddenly realized how my jaunt through the hills had wrought upon me pangs of hunger and thirst.
I knew I wouldn't be making a trip back up the hill until I found some nourishment, and resigned myself to the fact that I'd be eating in an establishment that would be catering to the tourist masses as opposed to satisfying my penchant for authentic cuisine in an off-the-beaten-path manner I usually like to adhere to.
That mindset doesn't always play well with concerned family and friends, but what can I say except, "boys will be boys", or perhaps, "you can't change the horse that's been drinking from the same pool of water for half a century."
Either way, when in Charlotte Amalie, tourist escape is a prerequisite for me.
Okay, I admit it - I usually make my cursory stroll through the hordes of vendors to pick up a new bottle of St. John's Bay Rum Cologne. This is accomplished usually amidst an endless flurry of polite "no thank yous" to obtrusive salesmen. And unfortunately for all involved, it always seems to disintegrate into a final crescendo of "Get outta my face - I told you NO!"
I really like St. Thomas a lot. But Charlotte Amalie seems to offer itself as a never ending blitz of touristy, sensory overload which tends to grate on me after a while. It's unfair to paint the entire town with that brush, but this is the side that presents itself to the casual, short term visitor.
Again, I am by no means complaining, but in truth, there are only so many tee-shirt and jewelry venders I can take shoving their wares down my throat and trying to entice me into their store, all for the supreme purpose of securing my hard-earned mainland American dollar.
This one particular afternoon in Charlotte Amalie, it was blazing hot; nearing the high nineties and pretty damn humid. I had just left a small group of folks who disbanded after enjoying a highly informative and fulfilling historic walking tour.
I headed down the hills keeping to the shady spots as best I could, and entered the fray. I popped into a store with sunburn and a dream.
I got off the shopper circuit and detoured into a maze of alleys known as Drake's Passage. Yeah, it was still filled with shoppers' havens, but at least it did so in a tolerable atmosphere. I made my way through the alleys, rife with age and the effects of salty air. The history within this area was quite apparent and it fueled my desire to eat here and take it all in.
Getting to the restaurant is quite a picturesque endeavor; random passages and alleyways connected by old brick corridors, brightly painted doors, and gardens with wild flowers bursting to life in the tropical heat.
In mere minutes, I deduced the fact that most stores in Charlotte Amalie peddle diamonds and ammolite to tourists, but the real jewel in this town is Gladys' Cafe.
The Conch Fritters were a prerequisite. I also wanted to try Callaloo Soup, or as Gladys spells it, Kalaloo Soup.
The goat was succulent and as I suspected, "suck it off the bone" good.
So if you're visiting Charlotte Amalie, and if by some odd chance you're not enjoying the beach or climbing hills, and instead, tiring quickly of your stay as a tourist-shopper and want to taste a real piece of St. Thomas, I've but three words: GO. SEE. GLADYS.