by Janie Chadwick
With the Easter festivities over, the campsites disbanded, and the spring
break crowd back in class, April in Vieques takes on a slow, comfortable pace.
The ocean begins its slow warm up so that most of the locals will start swimming
again. The mangos are fruiting, limon and banana trees are flowering, acerolas
(local cherry) are budding, and the papayas are small on the stock, promising a
harvest of great fruits over the next months.
Although Vieques is home to a variety of fruits, including a grapefruit that is great for juicing (lots and lots of seeds), it is difficult to find them. The seasons of rain and drought make it feast or famine for local fruit. When the bananas ripen, they are everywhere. It is the same for the limones(key limes). It is truly amazing that during certain dry spells, there is not a limon to be had unless it comes from Florida or Mexico. Mangos are so abundant that even after everyone has picked their fill, the horses are fat and happy, (no self respecting local horse will eat an apple, only mangos!!), there is still fruit available.
The best places to look for local seasonal fruit are at the small Colmados (stores) that are located throughout the island. While Vieques does have two large grocery stores and a warehouse style distributor owned by the Morales Family, the day to day purchases are done at the Colmados. The Colmados are just like the old time general stores that stocked every thing from milk to motor oil. They are also often times the hub of neighborhood activities, offering the best bulletin board information on who is selling a scooter, the local baseball team schedule, or a boat trip to St. Thomas. Most offer single cold beers and a place to drink them. Some can even make you a rum and coke.
The Vieques Fruit and Vegetable Market is located at the intersection of the road to Esperanza and the airport road. They are usually open every day, and also will open a coconut for you for some very fresh agua de coco. Colmado El Encanto in barrio Florida is right next to the Florida baseball field and they have a regular bar in addition to the store. Mambos in Destino/Monte Carmelo is open late, late on the weekends and sometimes has spring mix lettuce greens on Wednesdays. Across the street is Fun in the Sun, where you can try your hand at the Puerto Rico lottery. In Esperanza, Lydia’s is open very early and is located next the Dulce Esperanza bakery. The Tiende Verde (the Green Store) is open every day 9 to 9. They offer freshly baked bread and have a specialty foods cooler with things like Brie and goat cheese, hummus and vegetable pate. As you explore Vieques, you will find many of these little stores, often attached to the owner’s homes, each with their own specialties and ambiance.
Speaking of specialties, there is an abundance of Viequense owned and operated eateries. These range from traditional sit down restaurants, to food carts along the roadsides. The food is very flavorful but not spicy. Often times, main courses will fluctuate with what fruit or fish is in season. The use of rice and beans is prominent, along with mofongo, which is a dish of mashed plantains (they look like green bananas) seasoned with tomato, onion, peppers and served as a base for fish, lobster, chicken, pork and the like. Whole fish is another specialty of Viequense cooking. Most of the time Chillo, or snapper is used. The fish is bone in, so it takes patience and a surgical hand.
Pastellos and pasteles are two traditional preparations. Pastellos are small, deep-fried pies containing chicken, beef, pork, lobster, or fish. Pasteles are meat and masa filled banana leaves. The meat is seasoned and slow cooked until it is almost a puree. The mixture is then spooned into banana leaves and folded over several times and tied. The whole thing is then boiled just before eating. Pinchos are marinated meat on a stick, usually made with chicken or pork. Piñon is a Puerto Rican style lasagna using sweet plantains. Ensalada de pulpo or carrucho is a salad of octopus or conch. The meat is generally prepared in a pressure cooker so that it is tender. It is then combined with onion, peppers, and some times with potatoes and served at room temperature.
Starting in barrio Santa Maria, try the Iguana Restaurant and Bar. It is located across from the ballpark, 741-8400. Head from there toward town (Isabel Segunda) to Topacio. Topacio has both inside and outdoor seating, 741-1179. In downtown, Panaderia Lydia, fairly close to the ferry dock offers breakfast and sandwich take-out, 741-8679. On the other side of the Co-OP bank from the panaderia is Los Pepes (formerly Coconuts), open Thursday thru Saturday, 741-9325. The Deli Viequense is an eat in or take out deli, open until 6pm, located next to the Vieques Air Link main offices, 741-8213. Just up the street is El Patio, serving breakfast and lunch, 741-6381. Across the street is Shaunas, open for lunch cafeteria style with take out service and few tables, 741-1434.
As you head toward Esperanza, before the intersection on the left is Richard’s Café. Richard’s has been a mainstay for many years offering lunch and dinner, 741-5242. A bit further along just past the hospital on the left up the hill is El Resuelve. From the road you can see the bar/counter area flanked by a pool table. There is table seating and some parking in the back. You will know if it is open if the shutters are up. They serve into the evening. In Esperanza is Restaurante Bili. It is located next to bananas and offers an eat in or take out menu. The fare is much like that you will find in Old San Juan, 741-1382.
On the middle road, near Nales Hardware Store you will find D’Cano’s Café, specializing in Shrimp dishes, for dine in or take out, 741-7578. Just a few blocks down is Miguelito’s Chicken and Grill, a Puerto Rican-Cuban restaurant, again for eat in or take out, from 11am on Tuesday to Sunday. Some of the restaurants take reservations, but most are first come, first serve.
Anyone and everyone with a food cart is out selling. The carts are licensed and inspected by the health department, so no worries there. Here is where you can grab something quick to take with you to the beach or sit down under the trees. Carts are located wherever and whenever fancy strikes. There is one on Gringo Beach near the airport, another by the Middle School in town, another in front of the Post Office on Saturday night, and another in front of the ferry dock where you can buy a hot dog with potato sticks at 6am. There is yet another in front of the hospital serving meat stuffed potatoes.
On the weekends in Esperanza, the carts abound. Across from the Sun Bay gate is El Jibarito , offering amazing pulpo salad, where you will see at three generations working side by side. Next to them is yet another cart with outrageous rice and beans, and a tent with long family style tables. A little closer to Esperanza is Hector’s Naturals. He makes the best pinchos de pollo (chicken) and fresh juices, based upon what is in season. Hector is actually there five to six days per week. Just down from the Green Store is another cart that usually has some lobster dishes to offer. The owner cooks in her house and runs the food out the to the cart.
In the fisherman’s parking lot, in between the two piers are several carts and kiosks offering different fare. There some great pastellos, seafood stew, and hamburgers loaded with everything except the kitchen sink. You can grab a bite, walk the Malecon, hit La Nasa for a cold beer, and take a quick dip all within about 200 yards. Makes for a great afternoon.
Those of you that have been on Vieques or coming to Vieques for awhile, undoubtedly remember Mucho Gusto, which was located near Banco Popular in town. Carmen’s food was absolutely the best. Well, Mucho Gusto has reopened in Esperanza in the Guayacan Plaza on the Malecon. It is located in the space that used to be Trapper John’s and Amanchi’s for you old timers. For first timers, the Guayacan Plaza houses Vieques Flowers and Gifts, Divas Closet, Zone V DVD rentals and Guayacan Realty. Rumor has it that Carmen sold the business, but is back to cook, making it a “must eat”. The waiters are dressed in traditional Puerto Rican garb, including straw fedoras and turbans. The look is fun, although the local teenagers consider it “lame”. When they are open, there is a sandwich board out front with the menu posted.
So give the local cuisine a try. If you don’t know what is in something, just ask. There is always someone around to help with preparation descriptions or translations. Dining out tip….if a local restaurant offers an air conditioned dining room, bring a sweater (or down jacket). After some time on the beach, the AC can be downright cold. The food is prepared to order and can sometimes take some time to be served. Be patient and enjoy the slow comfortable pace of Vieques in April.
Thanks for reading!
April 2008 Calendar
||Historical & Archaeological Tour: Discover the island through stories and facts includes a visit to the site of the Puerto Ferro Man & more. $30 donation Call V.C.H.T. 741-8850|
|Saturday, Sunday 5th & 6th||Relay for life. 12PM@ Sunbay.|
|Sunday 6th||Book presentation: On the edge of life, short stories by Helena Méndez 1pm at the Fort - 1pm en el Fuerte.|
|Sunday 13th||“Pasta Rasta Fair”- Music, artisans, food & beverages. For space to sell your products please call 787/235-7099 ($5.00 space)|
||Bird Walk with Rich Puffer; discovers the birds of Vieques as they awaken for the day; 6:30am; donations encouraged to protect our feathered friends; for more info call V.C.H.T 741-8850|
|Saturday 19th||Alianza Cristiana Y Misiones Church invites you to the yard sale in Esperanza in front of the fisherman’s ramp. For more info 787/ 741-0517 Mayra|
|Friday, Saturday, Sunday 18th- 20th||Vieques Cultural Festival (Music, crafts, books, special exhibits)|
|Saturday 19th||Vieques Humane Society Yard Sale @ La Placita across from El Patio Restaurant. 2PM Drop off items for the Vieques Humane Society Yard at the animal shelter on Friday the 11th between 10 Am & 1:30 For info call 787-741-0209|
|Sunday 20th||Book Presentation: Militarism and Social Classes in Vieques: 1910-50. 1PM at The Fort.|
By Day of the Week
|All Month||Support the V.C.H.T by enjoying dessert at the Island Steakhouse throughout the month of April. For each dessert purchased, $2 will be donated to the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust. For reservations, call 741-0011.|
|Daily||New Lunch Specials by Chef Fuentes every day at Blue Horizon from 11 Am to 5 PM. Dishes from $12.|
|Monday thru Saturdays||Sunset Dinners at the Blue Macaw; salad, dinner
and dessert for $20; 5:30-6:30pm
Happy Hour at the Blue Macaw, from 5:30-6:30; $2 off all cocktails and wine
|On Demand||Spin on Demand classes - min 2persons...any day/any time; call Violet at (917) 836-5829|
|Tuesdays thru Sundays||Vinyasa Yoga with Jennifer, at Hix Island House's Hilltop Yoga Pavilion 9:30am; rain or shine. $15 includes mat & blanket. No reservations necessary.|
|Mondays||Amrit Yoga, 8 and 9:30am, $15 pp and Mantra Yoga,
9am ,free, both with Maureen at Hix Island’s Hilltop Yoga Pavilion ; $15
per person incl mat and blanket; no reservations necessary
Volleyball Mondays - Bump, Set, Spike! Every Monday starting at 3pm
Comfort Food at the Island Steakhouse, call 741-0011 for reservations.
Movie Night at the Blue Moon Bar & Grill at Inn on the Blue Horizon. Giant Screen TV. Various Snacks! 741-3318.
Alcoholics Anonymous - Big Book meeting; attendance limited to only those who want to stop drinking; 5:30pm at the Pavillion (back building) at the Trust, Esperanza
||Happy Hour at El Jardín at The Crow’s Nest,5-7pm,
chance to win free tab. 741-0011.
Alcoholic's Anonymous - Living Sober; open to all; 5:30pm at the Pavillion (back building) at the Trust, Esperanza
||Sunbay Yoga, 9am 787 435-7510
Alcoholic's Anonymous - As Bill Sees It; open to all; 6pm at at small building in back of Catholic Church in Isabel II
||Alcoholics Anonymous - Open discussion, 8:30am at
Yoga en Sunbay, 9am 787 435-7510
Fine Dining at the Blue Horizon’s Carambola - Reservation only 741-3318
Committe of Parents For Community Assistance - meets at the Susana Centeno Clinic, 7pm, with Alba “Pupa” Encarnación, 741-0895
Amrit Yoga wi th Maureen, 4:30pm, $15 pp at Hix Island’s Hilltop Yoga Pavilion; $15 per person incl mat and blanket; no reservations necessary
Film Documentaries on the Peace Movement and the history of Vieques, at Casa de Kathy, 352 Bromelias, Esperanza, free entrance; 8pm, 741-3352, call first
||Sunbay Yoga , 9am 787 435-7510
Voice and Guitar of Kiwi Kim, 5-8pm at Bananas
Alcoholics Anonymous - Came to Believe, open meeting 6pm at small building in back of Catholic Church in Isabel II
Salsa Lessons @ Blue Horizon, 8pm
Lobster Specials @ Trade Winds, 741-8666.
||Sunbay Yoga, 9am 787 435-7510
Manuel Silva and his Steel Drums, 5-8pm at Bananas
Alcoholics Anonymous - Step-Tradition, open meeting 10:30am at small building in back of Catholic Church in Isabel II
Amrit Yoga wi th Maureen, 11:45am, $15 pp at Hix Island’s Hilltop Yoga Pavilion; $15 per person incl mat and blanket; no reservations necessary
Date Dinner: Dinner for two for $59, iincluding bottle of wine, at the Island Steakhouse, 741-0011
Karaoke at Mar Azul, 8pm
Live Music, Salsa, Merengue and DJ, at the Blue Moon Bar & Grill, 8pm,
||Sunbay Yoga, 9am 787 435-7510
Alcoholics Anonymous - Open discussion, 10:30am at small building in back of Catholic Church in Isabel II
Voice and Guitar of Kiwi Kim, 5-8pm at Bananas
Prime Rib at the Island Steakhouse, call 741-0011 for reservations.
Paella Night @ Trade Winds. 787/741-8666
Fine Dining at the Blue Horizon’s Carambola - reservations only 741- 3318
After the Beach Party - Smooth music mixes by In House DJ’s / Cool big screen videos, 7pm, Blue Horizon
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