This article originally appeared in the Beacon’s Sept. 6 “Irma Anniversary” edition.
Though Irma’s destruction is still visible throughout Road Town, the capital’s new culinary choices don’t reflect the spartan lifestyle often associated with the recovery effort.
On any given day this summer, residents could have enjoyed cassava salad in a cozy cafe, vegan quinoa bean wraps on a lush balcony, strawberry crepes by the waterside, or martinis and tapas on a breezy rooftop — all from businesses that got their start after Sept. 6.
“I think after Irma, there was just this need to fill a void for people to have some sense of normalcy,” said Portia Harrigan on June 15, the day after her restaurant, Lady Sarah’s Farms, opened its doors. “Because so many people are even still now walking around dazed, trying to recover from Irma, and I thought if I created a space where people could just come and chill out for a while and just forget about the whole situation on the outside, then it would be an addition not only to Main Street but to Road Town as a whole.”
Ms. Harrigan — who is married to the publisher of this newspaper — originally ran an earlier version of Lady Sarah’s in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It shut down, however, because finding employees became difficult and the market for the modernised menu hadn’t fully developed yet, she explained.
After going back to her home country, the Bahamas, for two years from 2010, Ms. Harrigan returned to the Virgin Islands committed to reopening her restaurant. She had already purchased furniture and equipment prior to Irma, and — in the debris-filled wake of the storm — had a choice to either throw in the towel or soldier on with developing the restaurant’s space in Road Town. She chose the latter.
“The ingredients are all Caribbean but we’re trying to put a more modern spin on them,” Ms. Harrigan said of her menu offerings. “People don’t necessarily want to sit down to eat a plate of rice and all that stuff for lunch every day, so while we’re doing protein still, we’re doing it with more greens and root stuff.”
Among their options this week were dishes like split pea soup with tania, carrots and sweet potato; a slow-roasted pork wrap with pickled onions and slaw; and beverages like pineapple and moringa lemonade.
The restaurant employs seven people and has placed an emphasis on sourcing local ingredients — a practice that has become more common in Road Town.
‘Farm to fork’
About three blocks away, Fiona O’Connor operates the “farm-to-fork” restaurant and catering business Captain’s Kitchen, which opened in January.
Ms. O’Connor heavily features organic food from VI farmers, and she operates an ever-rotating menu dependent on the availability of fresh ingredients. Originally designed to be more of a catering business providing pre-made meals for the yachting community, her focus expanded to the restaurant during the slower-than-average tourism season — with a special emphasis on weekend brunches.
“I think food is making a change in the BVI as far as there’s a lot more people growing food,” Ms. O’Connor explained. “The amount of farmers that I’ve seen just come up after the storm compared to before — it just seems like there’s a lot more people wanting to grow.”
The increase in farming expands the opportunities to cook wholesome, healthy meals, she said.
Her recent offerings include Italian-style lasagna with avocado salad; pulled pork with garlic aioli, cabbage, carrot and grated apple; and fruit salad with chia seed pudding.
Captain’s Kitchen isn’t the only weekend brunch option: Pancake Paradise, owned and managed by Nicola and Eustace “Boss” Freeman, opened up shop between the Central Administration Building and the Tortola Pier Park at the end of May.
“We had wanted to do a business for quite some time,” Ms. Freeman explained, adding, “[But] we wanted to stand out and do something different. My family loves pancakes. My children, my husband — they love pancakes.”
Aside from multiple varieties of their titular offering, the restaurant’s menu also includes breakfast staples like fried steak and eggs and strawberry-banana French toast, as well as multiple styles of crepe.
Food and booze can also be enjoyed at higher altitudes than was possible before Irma.
With his Brandywine Estate Restaurant facing a long rehabilitation period, chef and owner Regis Bourdon knew he wanted to provide a different option. In May, he opened The Rooftop by Brandywine, a tapas bar on the top of the Cutlass Tower on Waterfront Drive.
“I think since Irma everybody’s been very scared of what tomorrow’s going to bring,” Mr. Bourdon said. “Everybody’s worked and focused so much on their life, on the basics, on the necessity, and people have bottled up so much and I feel like people just want to go out. They want to talk to people.”
The bar — which also serves lunches and employs about eight to 10 people — has appealed to a diverse crowd of customers, according to the chef.
Among their nighttime offerings are truffle polenta bites; scallops wrapped in bacon; a smoked salmon and shrimp platter; and beverages like fresh strawberry lemonade with açaí berry vodka. Mr. Bourdon has no plans to close the Rooftop after his primary restaurant reopens.
“It just works,” he said. “The music, the brouhaha, the background noise, the kitchen, the speed, the pace: Everything kind of works.”
The chef encouraged residents to visit establishments across the territory.
“People need to go out,” he said. “Spread the money around. Go to a nice restaurant one day, a sandwich shop one day. Go out, splash it, try as much to make the economy thrive.”