On the large screen TV next to the ordering window, a charismatic preacher laid down verse to his flock. His ministry was filled with Haitian women, heads covered in white lace, ecstatically engaging his calls in Creole. This service must have been a real classic. The subtitle on the TV screen said 3 Avril 2016, and I was watching a 3-year-old rerun.
I was entranced with the good preacher as Sonia, the chef and proprietress of Creole Fusion Cuisines in Bridgeport CT fried up chunks of goat meat. She came out of the kitchen, interrupting my tele-evangelical reverie to see if I could take spicy.
“Lord, yes.” I said in response.
Sonia served up a massive portion of rice and beans with a pile of savory fried goat topped with sweet peppers and onions in a spicy and tangy sauce in one corner of the tray and pikliz (“pick-lees”), a cabbage slaw with a lime vinegar dressing amped up with shredded scotch bonnet peppers in the other corner.
Besides TVs playing in the background, the three Haitian restaurants I had visited had several things in common. The kitchens were all run by first-generation Haitian women.
Each operated predominantly as a takeout food business, especially in the case of both Jean’s Cuisine and Creole Fusion Cuisine in Bridgeport which had only one or two small tables in front. This seemed to be a thing among Haitian restaurants. Looking at photos on Yelp for Haitian Restaurants in Miami (the largest of the Haitian diaspora cities), more than 50% of the pictures posted showed food resting in styrofoam clamshells.
Creole food is stewed, deep-fried or starchy. It is hearty and filling, and spicier than Cajun food. The ingredients are Caribbean and are similar to those found in Puerto Rican and Dominican cuisine; root vegetables like malanga (a cousin to yuca), plantains, sweet and spicy peppers, goats, chicken and fish, rice and beans. Some of the flavors and preparations overlap other Island’s cuisines, many of the flavors are unique and worth a try.
By volume I was served an inordinate amount of carbs. With each entrée, I was offered no small portion of white rice and black beans, or rice and beans. The fried pork and fried goat also included slices of fried plantain that tasted like Puerto Rican tostones or platanos depending on the ripeness of the plantain.
Creole cooking is slow food, even the deep-fried meats were simmered for hours before hand. These restaurants give guests a taste of home without the labor of cooking all day. One consequence of the slow cooked nature of Haitian cuisine is that the dish you want may not be ready at the time you visit. This happened to me at all three restaurants. At Chez Coby, the Boulèt (Haitian meatballs) were served only on Saturdays. At Jean Cuisine, several of the dishes were still being prepared for the evening rush. At Creole fusion, the legume was cooking and not ready to be served. Set your expectations accordingly.
For newcomers to Creole cooking, expect white rice and black beans or mixed rice and beans as the filler. I would suggest ordering the griot (or fried goat if you are more adventurous) to dip one’s toes into Haitian food. The accompanying gravy will give you a sense of the lime-vinegar and spices that typify Haitian cuisine. From there, try the legume or chicken stew. Bon apeti!
111 Main Street Norwalk CT 08651
Doordash, Seamless and Grubhub.
1063 Howard Ave, Bridgeport, CT 06605
Creole Fusion Cuisine
1985 Main St, Bridgeport, CT 06604
This is what I ate.
Griot (fried chunks of pork shoulder) was marinated and braised, converting tough connective tissue to tasty collagen, then deep fried and seasoned to add a crunchy finish.
At Chez Coby and Creole Fusion Cuisine, I was astounded at the flavor and texture of the fried meats. Without the braise, the meat would have been dry or tough to chew. With the braise, the pork was pillowy-soft behind the crispy exterior.
At Chez Coby on Main Ave in Norwalk, I ordered the Stewed Chicken. The sauce was tart from the addition of lime and vinegar. The chicken leg was braised well, with meat falling off the bones. The drumstick was small, much smaller than what you would find in a US supermarket. In Asia, they are called Kampong Chickens – tougher in texture but much tastier. The chef’s son said that his mother brought them in from New York.
At Creole Fusion Cuisine, I ordered a wonderful dish called Legume, which was advertised falsely as stewed vegetables. The dish does include vegetables such as spinach and eggplant, but the flavor was meaty from the chunks of oxtail beef and liberal use of bouillon cubes. It is a fatty, meaty, spicier mashed up version of ratatouille.
Soup Joumou (Pumpkin Soup)
Since we are at the start of the year, the ladies at Chez Coby prepared Soup Joumou – a traditional dish that celebrates the declaration of Haitian Independence on January 1, 1804. This soup, once reserved for the colonial slave masters, became a symbol of liberation and freedom. Chunks of beef, macaroni, sweet and chili peppers and other root vegetables were added to the soup base made from blended pumpkin and bone broth.
This was the second soup that I tried at Chez Coby. The first was, bouillon (a creole soup) which occupied a space between starch and stew. Boiled malanga (a starchy root), plantain and yuca populated the soup as stick-to-the-ribs starches. The bouillon at Chez Coby was also gelatinous and meaty from the collagen in the beef cubes and pork feet. In that sense it was more like stew-like than the Soup Joumou.
This was prepared like griot (fried pork shoulder). The braising and frying of the goat mellowed the gamey taste and added a tender texture.
Rice and Pigeon Peas
The rice was smoky and fried in a liberal amount of oil. The pigeon peas had the shape of large sweet peas but the taste and texture of starchy beans.