Friday, December 18, 2009

Island Time

Where does the time go? I am terribly remiss in not having written to you in almost a month! It seems like yesterday when we were just about to leave for "Thanksgiving in the Islands" and now it's a week before Christmas. I don't know about you, but I cannot keep up with the whooshing of the days racing by me and not enough time to do the things you really want to do (like talking with you, my culinary friends).

Anyway, enough philosophical waxing, you're probably saying! What about the food? Yes, we'll get to that. But first let me tell you about St John. If you want an unhurried, relaxed vacation in the sun, in a tropical locale (in the US), where there is an "island vibe," get thee to St John. While not totally unspoiled, but with 75% of the island owned by the National Park Service, you can be relatively sure that high-rise condos will not appear on the shoreline.

And while beautiful vistas and cool rum drinks are always on my list for a tropical vacation, my real focus on ANY trip is, of course, the food! Since this was not my first visit to St John, I had a couple of "must have" foods on my itinerary. First stop: what I call the "ultimate cheeseburger in paradise." I have been reminiscing about this burger since my first trip to St John 17 years ago. This, my friends, is what a cheeseburger is all about: flavorful, juicy, charcoal-grilled, on a toasted roll; all made even better if eaten in a bar at the water's edge. Said burger can be found at "Skinny Leg's Bar and Grill - A Pretty OK Place." This is the formal name; locals just call it Skinny's. Needless to say, this was our first stop after getting settled and it did not disappoint.

Next up: one of the best known island foods, conch fritters. Conch (pronounced konk) is a shellfish, also known as whelk. In the Caribbean it is served raw with lemon, onion, and minced tomato for a cold cocktail, or minced and made into a chowder. Or fried into fritters, which is how I like mine. You really want to get your conch fritters made by a local, if possible. One of the most highly regarded native cooks on St John is Miss Vie. Miss Vie and her daughter operate "Miss Vie's Snack Shack" on the far end of St John. Miss Vie's is really just a roadside shack that you could easily miss (save the one or two signs along the winding road that point you in the right direction). There are three or four items on Miss Vie's menu, but conch fritters are what I came for. Sweet morsels of conch meat with a light breading, fried crisp. Served on a paper plate - it's just you, your food, and that gorgeous blue water a short walk away. Does it get any better than this? Only when accompanied by Miss Vie's delicious Coconut Tart. Made with a cookie crust and exploding with fresh coconut, this was the perfect ending for a tropical lunch.
Miss Vie's has a private beach ($2.50/pp on the honor system) and after you've feasted on the delicious West Indian fare, you walk through the family cemetery (I'm not kidding) to a gorgeous, soft powder beach. All you need is a towel, Miss Vie even provides the beach chairs. A lovely way to spend an afternoon, I think.

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