Sugarcane Restaurant: Cuisine with a Pan-Caribbean twist

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SugarcaneUpon entering Sugarcane, there’s nothing immediately obvious about the Park Slope restaurant to suggest it offers traditional Caribbean fare. The long, glistening stainless-steel bar, flat-screen TV, walls decorated with geometric mirrors and red-and-gray décor give the place a minimalist and somewhat modern, Continental effect.

That’s just the intention of its owners, Charmaine Gumbs and Gaspa Rodriquez—to present fine Caribbean dining in a stylishly unique atmosphere.
Sugarcane, which opened in the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood in 2002, is an intimate spot (the restaurant seats 50 in the dining room). Above the red leather banquette in the main dining area, the brick walls are covered with several black-and-white family photographs dating back to the 1960s and ’70s that serve as reminders of the owners’ Trinidadian roots. In fact, while Sugarcane features traditional Caribbean dishes, such as rotis (breads filled with chick peas, chicken, shrimp or vegetables), braised oxtails, barbecued spare ribs and other entrees with a blend of West African and East Indian influences, executive chef Phoebe Gumbs (Charmaine’s sister) emphasizes authentic Trinidadian cooking and offers dishes such as the spicy Accras (fish cakes) with Congo Pepper Tartar Sauce; Trinidad Chinese Wings; Dhalpourie Roti; The Maracas (fried tilapia fish sandwich with a choice of cilantro sauce, mango chutney or passion fruit mayonnaise); Heritage Stew Chicken; and Plantain Crusted Red Snapper.

Before choosing one of Sugarcane’s most popular dishes—Calypso Steak, Jerk Chicken or Sugarcane Shrimp—start off with one of its 18 specialty martinis or cocktails, like the Midnight Robber Cosmo, Caribbean Martini, Sugarcane Rum Punch or Trini Flirtini. The Sorrel Martini was indeed refreshing and a bit sweet. Instead of selecting one of the popular entrees, I settled on the restaurant’s signature dish, Plantain Crusted Red Snapper. The meaty fillet of snapper was well cooked and topped with a mélange of sautéed onions and bell peppers. The flavors of the sauce mixed with the texture of the plantains accented the fish deliciously. My selections of a creamy Callaloo and coconut rice were suitable side dishes.

The wine list is limited, however, and a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir or a Rioja with the meal would have been additional satisfaction for my taste buds, but that’s just me, an oenophile talking.

Before opening Sugarcane, Charmaine Gumbs worked as an accounting manager for a law firm. It seems almost fitting, then, that the restaurant attracts a racially mixed crowd of businesspeople and young professionals during the week. On the weekends, when the restaurant offers weekly menu specials, the clientele appears just as diverse as the popular hip-hop, R & B and reggae music coming from the sound system.

For such a small place, Sugarcane has a lot going on. Tuesday nights is Ladies’ Night, with half-price drinks, and there’s live jazz on Sunday evenings. Echoing the words of a manager, Errol Jonas, “Sugarcane is not your usual Caribbean roti joint.”­­