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A lot of the culture of the Caribbean region is wrapped up into the flavorful morsels of the cuisine. Each island boasts its own take on classic dishes like curried or browned chicken, grilled fish and rice and peas. On St. Thomas, if you crave local creole cooking, two names will always come up. Cuzzin's and Gladys' Cafe are the two eateries that specialize in spicy and hearty Caribbean cuisine. Located in a former 18th century stable on a bustling Back Street, Cuzzin's attracts lots of travelers. Frothy drinks like the Green Iguana and the Painkiller cater to touristy tastes, but locals go for Virgin Islands home cooking like island style mutton, conch and curried anything.
Saltfish happens to be my favorite, so I ordered an overflowing platter of the salted cod slathered with peppers, dumplings, plantains and cassava. Cuzzin's is an intimate spot accented with vivid tablecloths and brick walls. The iconic dancing lady logo on the Cuzzin's signs always looks to me like she's trying to shake off all the food she's just inhaled.
Gladys' Cafe is ensconced in a lovely stonework courtyard, inside of what used to be a 17th century pump house. The menu features a host of Caribbean favorites like roti, conch chowder and curried goat, as well as dishes that I've never seen, like jerked pork chops.
I sampled the curried chicken with rice and peas, macaroni pie and more cassava. You can't avoid starch overload on most islands, so I just pretend that there's a vegetable or two on my plate and go for a long walk later.
Gladys' is bigger than Cuzzin's, with checked tablecloth and the gregarious Gladys, who actually hails from Antigua. Hot sauce is Gladys' real claim to fame; she makes a mustard version and a tomato-based selection that's super hot.
There's a rivalry between these two St. Thomas spots, some say that Cuzzin's is more authentic and that Gladys' focuses too much on tourists and vice versa. Personally, I prefer Cuzzin's food and Gladys' ambiance. I think both restaurants offer important elements to the St. Thomas experience.
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