Mario and Vidia Lall were counting on a certain amount of island magic—plus good food and word of mouth—when they opened Limin’s Café Caribe in East Orange back in 1996

Fast forward a quarter century and the Trinidadian and Caribbean spot is as popular as ever, and recently transferred to new (but family-based) ownership in the hands of Mario’s cousin, Eric Jordan. If taking over Limin’s is as much an act of love as responsibility, the Lalls left the place in good hands: Jordan has a culinary degree from New York City College of Technology (City Tech), as well as degrees in hospitality and real estate from NYU, and about 15 years of consulting in the hotel world. Jordan has been back at Limin’s for almost a year and is doing his best to preserve the vibrant, happy restaurant culture his cousin founded while also thinking about expansion—maybe a juice bar, maybe a second location, ideally a liquor license. We caught up with Jordan to ask about Trinidadian flavors, the staying power of a neighborhood institution, and what to expect from the restaurant in the coming year.

Eric Jordan with the Limin’s Cafe menu in East Orange. Photo courtesy of Eric Jordan

Table Hopping: First off, what does “Limin’” mean?
Eric Jordan: The restaurant was called Caribbean Cuisine in its first 10 years, roughly, then Mario changed it to Limin’s. “Limin’” is the word Trinidadians use for hanging out. “Hey, we’re hanging, where’s the lime? Where we limin’ later?”

TH: How did you come to take over the restaurant?
EJ: Mario is my cousin. He opened the restaurant back in 1996. And he’s been the champion, the one that’s really taken the place to the next level.

TH: Are you and Mario both from Trinidad or Tobago?
EJ: Mario and I grew up in the same house in the islands. We’re from the northern part of Trinidad. The recipes we use at the restaurant are from our families. They’re our grandmother’s recipes, his mother’s, my mother’s. The recipes were taken from our family many years ago when the restaurant was opened. Our aunts and mothers helped cook initially!

TH: Is Limin’s menu Trinidadian, then?
EJ: It’s Trinidadian and Caribbean. Trinidad was colonized by the French, the Spanish, and the British over different times in our history. Then the East Indians migrated to the Caribbean in the 1800s. There were African slaves in the 1500s. Our food is very diverse. There’s a lot of fusion.

TH: Speaking of the menu, what are some of the major influences?
EJ: Forty percent of our population is of East Indian descent and 40 percent is of African descent. Our food is influenced by both cultures. A lot of curries come from India. We make roti, called Dhal Puri with split peas inside it. We have Buss Up Shut, which is roti without split peas. We have Doubles, which is very famous in Trinidad. It’s a flatbread with curried chickpeas in the middle. Those were influenced a lot by the East Indian culture. And then on the African influence side, we have the stews—Callaloo, our national dish, is made from a bush in Trinidad. It’s similar to spinach. It’s an amazing soup that’s mixed with pumpkins and green seasonings and hot pepper. We take it over rice, but I’m finding a lot of Americans take it as a soup on its own. We also have stew chicken, stew beef, things like that that come from African influence. And we have all these other types of dishes that are a mixture of the people that make up Trinidad. There’s a relatively small Chinese population, too—indentured workers who first came to Trinidad and stayed, so we have chow mein and fried rice, Chinese-style chicken.

TH: What about the Bake and Shark? It’s iconic Trinidadian food. Is the bread called “bake”?
EJ: Different islands call it a different name. We call it a bake. In St. Lucia, they call it a float. In Jamaica they call it a festival. It’s flour-based and fried in oil. So it comes out like an air pocket and you can stuff food into it. There’s a beach, Maracus Beach, in Trinidad, where it’s a tradition: you go for a swim, you get out and have Bake and Shark. There are lines of people waiting for Bake and Shark.

TH: What kind of shark do you use? What does it taste like?
EJ: It’s mostly Nurse Shark. It’s tender. Lightly fried, it’s kind of like snapper. On the islands we’ll take it with garlic sauce. On the beach it’s dressed with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, ketchup, tamarind sauce—there are tons of choices.

TH: A lot of your dishes—Bake and Shark, Doubles, Buss Up Shut—are old school, and Limin’ itself has been there for almost 25 years. How has the restaurant made it so long?
EJ: I take my hat off to my cousin. He’s done such a remarkable job. When he started this up, there was absolutely no visibility. On the street, you cannot see the restaurant. You can’t even smell the food until you’re in the parking lot—which is behind the restaurant! So no one just walks in because they were walking in the street and can smell the food. But when they do come and smell and taste, oh my god!

Really we have survived on word of mouth. Repeat customers. For me that’s a testament to the strength of the brand an what Mario accomplished. And that’s my job to maintain.

TH: You’ve been running the spot for a year, roughly. Any plans in terms of growth?
EJ: Now that I’ve taken over, we’ve hooked up with Uber Eats, DoorDash. We’re doing a little more catering. We don’t have a liquor license but a lot of people are like, “Hey, can you open a second spot?” So we’re looking for the right spot eventually where we can serve alcohol. Trinidadians and Caribbeans love to hang out and lime. We’re having a steel band guy coming in to play for us. We have a DJ. We’re kicking up the entertainment a bit. So they’re asking us: “Can you get alcohol in this joint here?” We’re BYO, but obviously for us it’s more profitable to invest in a new place.

In this location, I’m strongly leaning towards opening a juice bar, non-alcoholic bar serving more of the milk drinks and health punches we make in Trinidad.

TH: What kind of milk drinks?
EJ: Sea Moss, which is actually made from sea moss you get from the sea—dried and boiled into a jelly, then you blend it with milk and cinnamon and Angostura bitters. It makes a great drink! A lot of health-conscious people drink the Sea Moss. It’s said to help you live longer. We also have Peanut Punch and Carrot Punch and Sorrel, which is like a hibiscus tea, which is traditionally had around Christmastime, but we serve it year-round here. And we have ginger beer and a drink made with Mauby bark. It’s made with part of a tree. It’ a little bitter, but a lot of people drink that stuff!

TH: Health-oriented beverages is such a big market right now. Caribbean spots might be right on-target for that.
EJ: Exactly. We want to open up the bar area and make the drinks right in front of the customers. I intend to do that this summer.

Limin’s Café Caribe, Even if summer is a ways away, they’re still making juice and milk drinks at Limin’s (just in the kitchen). You can go there for steel drums or a DJ set, just check with the restaurant’s Facebook page.

The post More Than Two Decades of Trinidadian Delights at Limin’s Café Caribe appeared first on New Jersey Monthly.
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