Right when I thought I about to give up on local Caribbean cuisine, Michelle's pulled me back in. Located in the Horsefeathers Building in a gentrifying Connecticut Street neighborhood, Michelle's is a hidden gem offering their unique-for-Buffalo Trinidadian-style take on Caribbean cuisine.
Michelle's Caribbean is one of the small food businesses incubated at Horsefeathers, 346 Connecticut St., including Public Coffee + Espresso house-roasted, pour-over coffee and Jolie's Traditional Chinese Food with its made-to-order dumplings. Martin Cooks' lunch, dinner and Saturday brunch is the anchor restaurant, drawing the biggest crowds.
I love Caribbean cuisine, especially curries and stewed meats served over rice and beans. If there’s one string which holds all of the diverse Caribbean island nations together, it’s rice and beans. It’s a staple comfort food throughout the Caribbean islands, even though rice is not indigenous to the West Indies.
Local Jamaican restaurants past and present, like Mangoz or Kalypso, have left me hoping for more with greasy curries, bland patties or overcooked rice. (I did find Mr. Patty's in the West Side Bazaar, whose Jamaican meat patties which are now staples in my freezer.)
Then I found Michelle, ma belle.
Michelle's offers counter service with ready-to-serve foods that are perfect for a quick lunch downtown. I started with doubles ($2), a Trinidadian street food.
Doubles are similar to channa masala, chickpea curry with roti, an Indian flat bread. In this case the flatbread is called bara. Unlike roti, it is made with turmeric and yeast, making it fluffy with a distinctive yellow tinge. The chickpea curry is flavored with West Indian peppers and cumin, topped with a tamarind chutney and their Trinidadian pepper sauce.
This sweet and spicy vegan treat can be eaten like a taco, and I haven’t seen it anyplace but Michelle's in Western New York.
Michelle's offers Caribbean cuisine in the style of Trinidad, which happens to be home to the world's hottest pepper, the Trinidad Scorpion. Yet the meal was not overly spicy – that is, until I asked for some of their house-made pepper sauce.
While Michelle's has a rotating selection of meat curries, the best meats, goat and oxtail, are usually reserved for Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so call ahead. I opted for the goat curry ($11.50, featured image).
While goat may make you squeamish, it’s not half as scary as it sounds. Goat generally has more flavor than pork and chicken, but is not as strongly flavored as lamb. Michelle's makes a proper goat curry, cooking the meat until fall-off-the-bone tender. (One caveat: this meat is served on tiny bones, so do not just haphazardly bite into it, or you may lose a tooth.)
What makes Trinidadian curries unique is the "green seasoning" which serves as a sofrito to give a base and body to the curry. The "green seasoning" resembles a pesto, and is usually made with various herbs like culantro, which is like a hearty cilantro, garlic and chili peppers. The "green seasoning" provides an earthier taste and green tone to the stewed meats than is normally found in Jamaican or Indian curries.
Michelle's goat curry is served over rice and kidney beans with fried, sweet plantains and a simple slaw made with cabbage, carrots and bell peppers of three varieties. The complex goat curry went well with the side dishes’ simple flavors, especially the perfectly cooked rice and beans. The rice was prepared with a nice bite, and the kidney beans had body without being leathery and starchy. Try the curries with their Jamaican ginger beer for a fine compliment of flavors.
Finally, I could not pass up what Michelle has dubbed "dessert": meat pies ($3).
There is something absolutely wonderful about meat cooked into hand pies. Empanadas, pastelillos, Jamaican patties, Cornish pasties, knishes, and chicken pot pies create a culinary synergy between meat and buttery pastry. Michelle's very flakey meat pies were stuffed with beef mixed with their hot pepper sauce. They are delicious and a perfect tasty treat to hold you over on the drive home.
I was dining solo at Michelle's so I did not get a chance to try all of the rare delights on the menu like callaloo (stewed amaranth), pholourie (fried dough balls) or peanut punch (a sweetened peanut butter drink), but I will be back.
Joseph A. Leta is an Amherst attorney who specializes in criminal, business and divorce law whose lifelong goal is to find the world's greatest foods, and eat them.