It was like the "Amazing Race," that is, if they did a food-focused episode. We dropped anchor in Saint Martin as the sun rose and were counting the minutes until we could get our first croissant. Saint Martin has a rep as the culinary capital of the Carribbean and we were determined to (taste) test that claim for ourselves.
So we did what any self-respecting food lover with too many options and too little time would do and we hired a driver to help us make the way down our must-eat list. Anyone who saw us probably thougth we were training for a heist and that our driver, Stan, had the getaway car but then we'd be robbers with Eclairs instead of guns and that's not very intimidating now is it?
But back to Saint Martin: the island has a split personality because one half is Dutch and one half is French, but also because it's where the Caribbean meets Europe. The signs, the language, the food? Pretty European. The pace of life, the people, the customs? Most definitely Caribbean. And it makes for an awesome combo when it comes to food.
We landed in Philipsburg (on the Dutch side), negortiated a day rate with our driver-slash-guide, Stan, and got going. From friends to No Reservations to TripAdvisor we scoured the Internet in search of must eats and knew we couldn't leave the island without a good dose of French pastries, lolos (aka local grills), and some of the roadside food stands with super local food.
Bite after bite, stop after stop, we enduring everything from a coconut-weilding con artist to a run-in with the police, and a downpour, but we sucked it up all in the name of hunting down the best the island had to offer (don't say we never tried for you!). Here are our favorites:
WHERE TO EAT
EAT excellent eclairs at Taste Factory Patisserie - We had a must-eat list and were on a mission but Stan insisted that we stop by this Simpson Bay bakery. We walked into a scene right out of Southern France – French speakers with heads bent over the morning paper with coffee and pastries in hand. Our faves were the Coffee Eclair and the Apple Beignet.
EAT local comfort food at Hilma’s Windsor Castle - Easily the most talked about place when we looked into Saint Martin and it's easy to see why. The owner, Hilma, is a riot – the minute you start talking to her you feel like you've met your long-lost grandmother. Her "Castle" is a little trailer on the side of the street in Simpson Bay (or as the internet said, "next to the bank") and it made us really feel like we had arrived in the island. Diners were cracking open Heinekens (the more hungover ones drinking Hilma's homemade Bush Tea) and everyone was catching up with friends new and old as they chowed down on the daily special of chicken with johnnycakes.
DRINK at Maho Beach Sunset Bar - Maho Beach is mostly known as a tourist stop because the planes pass just a few feet overhead as they land at the nearby airport. It's one of those only-in-the-Caribbean things that's cheesy but also sort of a must do. Everyone was hanging at the Sunset Bar as they waited for the next plane to arrive but we got fresh coconuts out of a shopping cart from this local guy who was apparently not on the up-and-up because he was eventually rushed off by the police.
EAT more French pastries at La Sucrerie Patisserie - If we had to choose, we'd say Marigot was our favorite part of Saint Martin. It's decidedly French with pastry shops and bakeries lining the main drag and is as cheery as it is colorful. There are so many highly recommended pastry shops but we set our sights on La Sucrerie and were rewarded with a hazenut Paris-Brest pastry that was so well made, it could've been right out of Paris.
EAT at a local Lolo at Sky’s The Limit - Talk about food in Saint Martin and quickly you'll start hearing about the local grills known as lolos. And over on Grand Case beach, there are stand after stand of them. We opted for Sky's The Limit, which we decided must refer to its portion sizes because they were basically sky high. Though we could've done without the sides and painstakingly slow service, the spicy grilled chicken and the chance to banter with the locals more than made up for it.
DRINK tropical drinks at Kakao Beach Bar - Most everyone we talked to said to skip the rest of the island and head straight to Orient Beach and, if all you wanted to do was layout and lounge about, that would be a really good call. Instead, we hit Orient Beach on our way back from Grand Case and walked along the beach (part of which is clothing optional just FYI) in search of a bar. When we hit Kakao, which had an adorable boutique (with Calypso and other cute beachware) and a bartender who is a doppelganger for Tom Cruise in Cocktail, we knew we had our spot. The Mojitos at Kakao we good but the atmosphere made it even better.
EAT good gelato at Gelateria Milano - Back in Philipsburg before we took off, we decided to make one last stop at Gelateria Milano. I know, the last place you expect good gelato is in the Dutch Caribbean but it more than delivered.
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