Local Chef Digby Stridiron offered a soft opening of his Braata Restaurant in the 69 Strand Street Frederiksted courtyard Thursday and continued his menu throughout the weekend.
Foodies across the island flocked to the former Pier 69 location to indulge in Chef Digby’s homecoming menu at Braata, his new restaurant.
“Braata means a little bit of something extra, and that’s what I’ve come home to do. I’m giving the community Braata,” Stridiron said.
Stridiron was previously the chef and co-owner of Balter in downtown Christiansted. The native Crucian left St. Croix for the mainland, but the challenges he encountered in the past year changed the way he thought about himself as a chef and as a man, he said.
The decision to come back home was motivated by Hurricane Maria. The destruction to his island and the passing of his grandmother rendered him helpless being so far away, said Stridiron.
He traveled to Jamaica to try authentic jerk, to Trinidad to try doubles, and to Barbados to try flying fish. Now he has come home full circle and he doesn’t feel he has to cook to garner awards.
“It’s about feeling good about the food and the culture,” he said. “The soft opening menu is 100 percent Caribbean and it makes me proud to offer indigenous food to my community.”
Carla Jarvis grew up on St. Croix eating local food. She ordered Salt Fish Gundy with breadfruit tostones and avocado puree. “It was the perfect blending of the salt fish, she said. “It’s truly a tasty creation.”
Patrons dined on a menu that sold out before the end of the evening. There was spiced shrimp with green onions, scarlet rice, and avocado. The Art Farm salad was created entirely with raw ingredients from the east end farm. Dessert was the traditional Crucian Red Grout.
Legendary local singer Doc Petersen entertained throughout the evening with local quelbe and calypso, and he serenaded ballads, accompanying himself on guitar.
Migdalia Santana Cruz is the chef’s mother, and she expressed a mother’s love.
“I’m so happy he is doing his own thing,” she said of her son. “He’s my baby and I am so proud of him.”
“The idea behind these dishes is the celebration that we are Crucian, yet we also came from all over Africa, from Ghana, Sierra Leone,” Stridiron said. “We were actually indentured servants removed from India and taken to Trinidad. We are the Taino Indians and other indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.”
“Looking at these dishes and looking at the ingredients is the perfect time to celebrate us as Americans in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” he said.
CHANT tour guide George Etienne said, “I want to support local businesses. Chef Digby is an excellent chef and he cooks Crucian food in a gourmet way.”
Etienne ordered the Injeera Bread with a Cajun spiced cauliflower, okra, broccoli and garlic stew.
According to Stridiron, the teff flour for the bread in Etienne’s dish was fermented for three months to create its taste and texture.
Braata is the rum bar of his dreams come true, he said.
“The Japanese serve sake with each dish, so I can serve rum with each of my dishes.”
Bartender Shaba mixed Cruzan rum cocktails with local juices, syrups or fruits. Local Island Mutiny Vodka was also a special cocktail offering on the menu.
Local artist Lucien Downes came Thursday and dined and then returned to dine again on Friday.
“The food and atmosphere at Braata was amazing, Downes said. “The blends of cultural flavors were a delightful pleasure for my taste buds.”
A Guardian of Culture Mocko Jumbie moved around the courtyard in dance inviting folks to join him in creating a fusion of culture both choreographed and spontaneous.
“I’ve accepted myself. I don’t need the approval of having to be seen. I want my people to see me everyday,” Stridiron said. “I travelled for a year and it feels good to be home.”
At Braata, the colors of the West Indies are highlighted in the décor. The dishware is enameled metal and reminds Stridiron of his camping days.
Braata is open for dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On “cruise ship Sunday, the restaurant will be open for rum and roti.
More information about the restaurant is available on Digby Stridiron’s Facebook page.