Grand Bahama: Beach food at its best

Rachel and I spent this week on vacation in Grand Bahama, which is one of my most favorite destinations for simply “chillaxing” and hanging out at the beach. Grand Bahama isn’t as developed as Nassau/New Providence, so it’s even more laid back and serene.

Which is just the way I like it.

But when on any vacation in a tropical environment, it’s not just about the beach bumming, it’s also about the beach food. And Grand Bahama has some of the best beach cuisine in the entire world, to go with what also ranks as some of the best beaches in the entire world as well.

Taino Beach, Grand Bahama

Ready for some killer beach food? Come to Grand Bahama. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

You can’t really approach the subject of beach food in the Bahamas without talking about Taino Beach.

Located on the southwestern part of the Grand Bahama to the east of Freeport, the island’s only major town, Taino (pronounced “Tee-no”) is the host to the Wednesday night “Fish Fry” which is popular with both tourists and locals.

On Taino sits several very casual restaurants specializing in simple Bahamian food. Pictured above is Tony Macaroni’s Conch Experience, which has an outstanding water view and also excellent food. In fact I would qualify it as a do not miss eating destination.

The menu at Tony Macaroni’s is decidedly basic, and extremely limited at that. There’s nothing on the menu that jumps out as particularly special, since it’s just a condensed menu of simple Bahamian dishes you can find pretty much everywhere. And the place has kind of a ridiculous name, as there’s no Italian food to be found. Bear with me.

Yes, I do realize the prices look insanely expensive. That’s because they are, and they are not artificially so. This is very much business as usual in the Bahamas, as the country has no income tax, capital gains tax, value-added tax or wealth tax of any kind. The country’s government supports itself entirely on sales tax and tariffs. The country’s equivalent to social security/social insurance is funded by payroll tax.

So everything you buy? Freakin’ expensive, especially if the goods have to be imported, so buy local.

Bottom line? You’re on vacation. Deal with it.

Here is Tony cutting up some fresh conch in his tiny shack. It isn’t so much what Tony is cooking here insomuch as how he is cooking it. Directly behind him is a simple half-barrel grill where he cooks using logs from a sapodilla or “dilly” tree. Tony has been cooking in this way for over 30 years.

This makes Tony unique from all the other restaurants on Taino which use the Bahamian Pine for outdoor grilling fuel. The sapodilla smoke imparts a very distinct flavor to anything  that is cooked over the fire, and it is completely different than any other smoking wood I have either tasted or worked with for grilling or BBQ purposes.

I should also note that Tony cooks on the grill mostly with his bare hands and does all the flame temperature control on his grill by blowing on it.

No, I’m not joking. The guy actually invited me into his kitchen to watch him one evening. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera the first time we went and on the second time, when I took these photos, he was prepping for a birthday party and was too busy. I really wish you could have seen it.

Main Dining Room at Tony Macaroni’s.

As I wrote in my previous entry on Grand Bahama, the conch is ever-present in Bahamian culture and food. It is considered to be an aphrodisiac, most likely because of how the shell shape and color closely resembles the human vulva.

Or, maybe it just plain tastes good.

There isn’t a restaurant on this planet that can beat this view.

“Roast” conch, specialty of the house and my opinion the best value on the menu. All of the seafood dishes are cooked over the grill in a beggar’s purse of double-thick aluminum foil, similar to an “en papillote” or “al cartoccio” treatment in French/Italian cuisine, at very high heat.

The juices of the conch render along with the juices of the tomato and onion along with the spices added (cumin, salt, pepper) which mixes with the strong smoke from the sapodilla. This produces a broth with an unimaginable flavor, which is sopped up with white bread dinner rolls. Don’t knock it.

I happen to be very partial to the conch cooked in this fashion but Rachel preferred the fish.

For those of you who won’t eat seafood, Tony also has chicken, hot dogs and burgers. The hot dog and burger itself is nothing special — until they are cooked directly over that smoking sapodilla wood grill. It may very well be the best burger in the entire Caribbean.

If you have to eat a burger on Grand Bahama, bypass the urge to hit Burger King and come here instead. It’s totally worth the $6.

Turtle Reef Beach, East Grand Bahama

Driving down the beach access road on Taino you’ll hit this joint that the taxi drivers and the cruise ships will drag people to. On Wednesday night, it always has a huge line. Yes, it’s right on the beach. Bypass this place. If I may quote Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

The furthest of the restaurants from the beach is Penny’s Fish Fry.

Like Tony’s, the menu is also limited to Bahamian specialties.

Here is Penny in her kitchen.

Fryin’ up da fish and fritters.

Cooking up the Peas & Rice. Penny’s rice has a very nice coconut flavor.

Jerkin’ it.

The fish that evening was snapper. This is a whole fish, deep fried in a pot over open flame. The side dishes here are Mac n’ Cheese, along with Peas & Rice. You’ll see this at every restaurant serving Bahamian cuisine, the double or even triple starch treatment. These folks don’t like to eat veggies much, I’m not sure what it is. No greens with that Mac.

I’m not sure how Mac & Cheese got into the Bahamian diet but I have to assume it was imported from the United States after Bahamians got exposed to Soul Food. Modern Bahamian food is essentially soul food with a Caribbean slant, with a heavy emphasis on seafood.

This bright orange concoction is Goat Pepper Sauce, aka pure evil in a bottle. These are cut up orange habaneros mixed up with onions and vinegar which is allowed to ferment at room temperature. It is extremely potent and is used to add heat to any dish.

Yes senator, I did partake, many times.

Jerk Pork, served with Rice & Peas and Cole Slaw.

Penny’s conch fritters, with the dipping sauce drizzled over the top.

A slice of coconut bread, which is very similar to a banana bread. We wrapped this up and had it for a snack the next morning.

Barbary Beach, Grand Bahama

While I enjoyed the food Penny’s, I have to add that their service wasn’t particularly good or friendly. If you really want to eat well and feel like you are being treated like family, you want to go check out Da’Bus Stop which is right next door.

Da’Bus Stop is run by a very nice Jamaican lady who has been living on the island about 30 years. In my opinion, she is probably producing the best Bahamian food on the entire island. Unlike Penny’s and Tony’s, she serves a full menu (1) (2) and is open Wednesday and Friday.

Many of the restaurants on the island are running reduced hours because of the economy and suffering tourism. So with any restaurant, make sure you call beforehand, or at least have an alternate dining plan in place, which is how we rolled that week.

Da’Bus Stop’s BBQ chicken, with the Mac and Rice/Peas. This chicken somehow managed to have both a crispy skin and was grilled — Rachel thinks that it was flash fried and then finished on the grill with the sauce. However they did it, it was awesome.

On this same plate we have conch fritters, and also conch cakes. Conch cakes were essentially invented by the owner of this restaurant, and are analogous to Crab cakes but much denser and have a ton of conch in it. Once you have a conch cake, you will never want to eat a conch fritter ever again. No, really.

Conch cake interior view.

This is escoveitch, a savory vegetable stew which is poured over the rice. Great stuff.

If you don’t know what kind of conch dish you want, you can simply just have it all. This is the conch platter with cracked (fried) conch, conch fritters, conch cake, conch soup with Mac &  Cheese and Plantains.

Conch Soup closeup. Freakin’ AMAZING, and also extremely spicy.

Grill closeup. You can see the Bahamian pine stacked up on the right and also on fire. This wood also gives the food a very distinctive flavor, although not as powerful as the dilly wood.

BBQ ribs on the grill.

And yes, they were as good as they looked.

Turtle Reef Beach, East Grand Bahama

This place doesn’t strictly classify as a beach joint, since it’s on East Sunrise Highway in the middle of Freeport. However, I would absolutely recommend grabbing some BBQ from here and bringing it down to the beach.

I believe the name is “Barbara’s Corn and Barbecue Stand” and it is only open at night, but not on Sundays.

The food is extremely inexpensive and plentiful, and they make some of the spiciest jerk pork and chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life.

The stand is extremely popular with locals, including local police officers and blue collar types coming off shift from the port and the industrial part of town. Fair warning: You’ll definitely get your education in salty Bahamian vernacular here.

Jerkin’ it.

Applying the sauce. You can get your meat with a sweet BBQ or Spicy Jerk, or a 50/50. I recommend the 50/50 unless you enjoy having your face on fire.

Grilled corn, a must order. Why?

Well, because they rub it with butter, heavily dust it with parmesan cheese and season it with a lemon pepper blend. The corn is lava hot when it comes off the grill, and the acid in the lemon pepper actually makes the spicy jerk even more spicy and re-activates the flavor in your mouth. Killer.

Conch garden at Tony Macaroni’s on Taino Beach, Grand Bahama

Of course you don’t have to go to a restaurant to make stellar beach food, you can do it yourself. Here is a whole bunch of spiny lobster tails I bought from a local fisherman which we cooked in our timeshare unit. We put these over a double layer of aluminum foil, with butter, fresh thyme, sliced oranges, tomatoes, onions, habanero peppers, Bahamian “Complete” spice and a half a bottle of Sands beer.

Wrap up like so…

And cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes at 350, until the tails are fully cooked.

Then you eat it gleefully.

You didn’t think we ate all that lobster all at once, did you? We reserved over half the tails with the liquid and chilled them overnight, and then chopped them up to make a Lobster Salad. This is simply the meat of the lobster tails with celery, red pepper, red chile peppers, mayo and a bit of mustard and Complete Spice. Not exactly New England Lobster Roll filling. More like a spicier cousin.

Hollow out local whole wheat bread, stuff with the lobster mixture…

And head to the beach.

3 Responses to Grand Bahama: Beach food at its best

  1. Food Stories says:

    Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can’t wait to see what your next post will be!

  2. […] Grand Bahama: Beach food at its best ( […]

  3. My aunt ( or @jillian.austen) is creating a painting a day in 2015 – she just did one of the conch shells and has done bougainvillea in the past – I LOVE the photo of the table centerpiece, would you mind me forwarding it to her as a potential subject?

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