Feeling a need for a huge helping of island vibe, a variety of island food and an extra serving of island beats? Then head west, to Weston.
Islanders have found a spot on the edge of the Florida Everglades where they eat Jamaican street food, listen to reggae and steel drums and sometimes catch-up with long-lost friends.
That is the scene at the Café 27 at the Seminole Travel Center on U.S. 27 in Weston, with the River of Grass swaying across the highway. Truck Stop, as the space is affectionately called, becomes a Caribbean festival Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
A visit to the Truck Stop ends dreams of wanting to eat fried snapper escoveitched ($12), jerk chicken or pork ($7), or fried festival (a cornmeal-flour-sugar-salt fried piece of culinary heaven, 2 for $1) because they are all there, sometimes made fresh while you wait.
Added to the menu are fish tea ($4), goat soup, ($5, also known as mannish water and thought of as an aphrodisiac) curried goat ($10, a do-not-miss dish) as well as steamed fish ($12).
And the chef has seafood creations, which can change weekly. Sometimes there is even deep-fried whole lobster (market price), served with half of a bammy (cassava cake soaked in milk, salt and pepper and light garlic, then fried) and one festival.
The Truck Stop has been in its location for 32 years, though the current owners — Seamus Redmond, Chris Savits and Juan Daniel — have been running it for five. Redmond runs the Café 27 operations.
These three men bought the Truck Stop in 2005, about two days before Hurricane Wilma hit. After the storm, the 10-acre property needed a complete overhaul.
“There was no other option,” Redmond said, about the massive clearing out of trees, putting down floors, and replacing the Tiki Huts. “Wilma expedited it.”
Café 27 started serving breakfast and lunch, but still needed something else to draw people in and keep them there in the evenings.
“I knew someone who was familiar with the Caribbean market, so we pursued that,” Redmond said.
Just about every Friday night, Georgette McGregor of Miramar goes to the Truck Stop for the goat soup and fried fish. She was referred by a friend, and she pays it forward.
Truck Stop manager David Jones, who has been with the location since day-one of the new ownership, said Caribbean nights started March 2006 as a Saturday evening cookout.
Now it’s a three-evening-a-week Caribbean fete. The smell of jerk-season infused chicken and pork cooking on the grill meets you, starting at about 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, 6 p.m. on Fridays and 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
The outdoor kitchen is open until 2 a.m. About 9 p.m., reggae music drowns out the sounds of the highway, when a DJ or a band gets the crowd rocking. From the tiki huts, tropical drinks, domestic and imported beers are served.
An older crowd with families and children comes in the early evening, but a younger crowd emerges as the night continues into the wee hours.
Bring cash and patience, because the food line can get long. Also bring some Deet to repel the Everglades’ natural inhabitants.
Photo by Khary Bruyning