Best Caribbean Food: Good enough to make you forgive Columbus

Penny's Caribbean Cafe

You don’t rush Ann Penny. Show up at her homey, cluttered storefront restaurant and the Trinidadian cook walks back to her tight little kitchen and scratch-cooks your meal with the poise of some lovably mellow mom. Take in Penny’s tchotchkes while you chill: a map of the eastern Caribbean faded to a uniform cyan blue, island flags in shiny nylon, and a ceramic Pekingese with a flamingo-pink snout. There’s nothing snooty about the food that finally does arrive, on plates hefty enough to sink a fishing trawler. The vegetarian roti is a stretchy, buttery-tasting, Indian-style crepe crammed with coarsely smashed spuds and chickpeas. Jerk chicken comes with a slab of vividly orange mac ‘n’ cheese, a mess of rice and peas, and sauteed spinach. Oh yeah, and the chicken: fat hunks of pan-fried flesh blazing with the heat of Penny’s habanero-chile-and-vinegar sauce. It’s a mouthful of fierce in what may be the most laid-back dining room in town.

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