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Fall 2004 | Getting Spicy in Grenada

Fall 2004 | Getting Spicy in Grenada

The food and scenery are both delicious on this oh-so-quiet Carribean island

Whenever I asked anyone on Grenada about gay life, I was always told to go see Patrick Levine. I was beginning to think he was the only openly gay man on this Caribbean island. I went to visit him at his namesake restaurant, Patrick's, that he operates out of his home in Grenada's quaint capital of St. George's on the main island. As I heard from one of the locals, "You'll go for the host and stay for the food."

Levine, a 40-something, gregarious host who is a native of the island, serves so much food that you think the table will give way under the plates of local bounty he brings out--and brings out and brings out--from the kitchen. Callaloo soup (akin to spinach), green papaya with cheese sauce, green banana salad, stir-fry rabbit, stewed beef, coo coo (cornmeal with coconut, with a polenta-like consistency), baked eggplant, sweet-and-sour pork with ginger. Levine is a second-generation chef--his mother once cooked for one of the island's now-deceased prime ministers--and he says the idea of a Grenada-specific cuisine is subjective at best. "We have our own local gourmets," he says in his distinctively high-pitched voice. "My special cooking is gonna be tasting different than some people on the island who say they're cooking local food. It's gonna be total different." He categorizes his own cooking--which includes, as he puts it, "a lot of flavor, a lot of glamour, and a lot of spice"--as being in the creole vein.

As far as seemingly being the only out gay man in Grenada, Levine notes that the "down low" is alive and well on the island. "The life in Grenada is very discreet. People usually want to do their thing, but they keep it between their private selves," he says. While Levine has a boyfriend in Holland, he's happy to act as a "gay hotline" for queer tourists. "Come to me so I can get someone good and decent and clean for you" to hang out and spend time on the island with, he tells me. I leave with a full belly and a new friend.

I felt that the island had become a kind of friend too. But while I was willing to share the news about my discovery of Patrick and his unassuming-looking restaurant, I was reluctant to tell people about Grenada once I came home. Somehow I felt that relating the news would lead to the island becoming crowded and that its charm would somehow disappear. That's the effect Grenada has on visitors. After enjoying the beautiful vistas, the excellent cuisine, and the intimate resorts, you feel a little guilty letting the secret out. It's good to know that there's still an island in the Caribbean that isn't overrun with Sandals resorts and Jimmy Buffett-themed restaurants--but you wonder how long Grenada can keep its under-the-radar status.

Most Americans probably never gave much thought to Grenada prior to Ronald Reagan's 1983 "intervention" (as the islanders refer to the invasion by U.S. forces) after Marxists executed Socialist prime minister Maurice Bishop in a coup. (My visit happened to occur during the 20th anniversary of the invasion, and everyone I met seemed to be grateful that the United had States stepped in.) But Grenada has established itself both as a welcoming tourist destination and as the "Spice Island of the Caribbean," to quote the brochures. The spice trade is so significant to Grenada that there's a nutmeg plant on the flag. The abundance of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and other spices is also reflected in the nation's tasty and exotic cuisine. Indeed, the best way to experience the 133-square-mile, three-island Grenada--boasting everything from beautiful beaches to lush rain forests to breathtaking waterfalls--is through a tour of its food.

Grenada's thriving spice trade provides interesting stops for tourists looking to do more than snorkel and get a tan (two activities you can pursue with great vigor here, incidentally). Laura's herb and spice garden offers a picturesque tour of a fragrant plantation where cinnamon, thyme, basil, nutmeg, and countless other spices are grown. At the Dougaldston Estate's spice factory, you'll see how these various spices are processed and packaged for cooks around the world. Workers do everything by hand in this slightly ramshackle, open-air building, even picking out individual dried pieces of mace that grow on the outside of the nutmeg nut.

While the big international hotel chains have not established a presence on the island, Grenada has a number of gorgeous top-flight resorts. The Spice Island Beach Resort offers luxurious bungalows that come equipped with private pools and spacious spa tubs. You'll stay steps away from the beach, and the resort features a full-scale spa and exercise room, plus Internet access. Guests are also invited to a weekly cocktail party at the lavish home of the resort's owner, Royston Hopkin--his rolling green lawn goes all the way to the water's edge, and some on the island say it's the perfect place to see the elusive "green ray" that sometimes occurs as the sun disappears into the watery horizon. The restaurant, Oliver's, serves an impressive mix of international cuisine and local delicacies, including a callaloo souffl?, dasheen soup (made with taro, the root of the callaloo plant), breadfruit soup, and a variety of classic European dishes prepared with local spices and flavors, such as Grenadan honey and passion fruit.

The newly opened Bel Air Plantation offers 11 furnished villas overlooking one of the island's most picturesque coves, where many yachts anchor. (A number of insurance companies insist that boats dock here during hurricane season since Grenada has the calmest seas in the Caribbean.) The chefs at Bel Air's restaurant serve three amazing meals a day. Don't miss the sticky date cake, which has the texture of gingerbread and is served with a raspberry or chocolate sauce.

The secluded Laluna resort is a favorite among young Hollywood types who want to get away from it all--the discreet management won't name names, darn it--and it's easy to see why. The guest cottages lie uphill from a secluded beach, and you can have a Balinese four-poster bed along with ocean-view bathrooms that can be entered from the patio (because there's nothing worse than tracking your sandy feet through the living room on your way to an apr?s-beach shower). Both Laluna and Bel Air made a point of mentioning that they are welcoming of gay and lesbian clientele.

This was welcome news, for that while the natives seem to be welcoming, friendly people, attitudes in the region about homosexuality remain fairly antediluvian. While that's slowly changing--"thanks to American television," I was told by a local--it's best to keep things discreet if you're vacationing with your lover. No public displays of affection--it's just the way things are down in the West Indies.

While it's tempting to plop down on the beach and stay there for your entire visit--American tourists may find themselves blinded by sunsets in clear skies--make sure to take a day trip by boat from St. George's to Grenada's sister island of Carriacou. The vistas and snorkeling are alluring--a galaxy of starfish and sea fans--and you may see a double rainbow off the water, as I did when I returned to the harbor at St. George's. Grab lunch at Callaloo...by the Sea on Carriacou, which lives up to its name by being located just inches from the ocean. An excursion that won't require you to leave Grenada is a trip to Concord Falls. For just $2 you can swim and wade in a breathtaking cascade. It's just another way to enjoy this gem of an island before the word gets out (and now, it already has).

Duralde is the deputy arts and entertainment editor for The Advocate.

ESSENTIALS

Accommodations

The Spice Island Beach Resort (Grand Anse Beach, St. George parish, P.O. Box 6; 473-444-4258; $494-$1,040) is home to spacious bungalows, some right on the beach, others with a private swimming pool. Laluna (Morne Rouge, P.O. Box 1500, St. George parish; 866-4-LALUNA and 473-439-0001; $290-$1,060) boasts beautifully designed cottages complete with outdoor-access showers overlooking a secluded beach. The newly opened Bel Air Plantation (St. David's Point, St. David parish; 473-444-6305; $250-$650) has 11 furnished villas overlooking one of the island's most picturesque coves, where many yachts anchor. The chefs at Bel Air's restaurant serve three amazing meals a day, and don't miss the sticky date cake, which has the texture of gingerbread and is served with a raspberry or chocolate sauce.

Restaurants

Inexpensive: Gay and lesbian tourists have no excuse to not eat at Patrick's (Lagoon Road, St. George's town; 473-440-0364). He's an effusive host and a talented cook, feeding his guests more delicious island cuisine than they can handle, all for just $20. On the neighboring island of Carriacou, stop by Callaloo...by the Sea (Main Street; 473-443-8004) and have delicious "lambie" (conch) curry for lunch--you'll be literally steps away from the ocean.

Expensive:Belmont Estate (Belmont, St. Patrick; 473-442-9524) offers an eclectic buffet and a breathtaking view of tropical forests; also take the guided tour of this plantation's museum and sugarcane gardens. The beachside Aquarium restaurant (Point Salines, St. George; 473-444-1410) offers an expansive array of seafood; the buttery scallops may just be the best you'll ever eat. Head over to La Belle Creole (at the Blue Horizons Cottage Hotel, Grand Anse Beach; 473-444-4316) for a five-course dinner including indigenous seafood and vegetables.

Attractions

Your friends will love the gifts from Arawak Islands (between Grand Anse and St. George's town; 473-444-3577): a dazzling array of personal care items, candles, spices, and scents made entirely of local ingredients. De La Grenade Industries (St. Paul's, St. George; 473-440-3241) makes nutmeg-based jams, syrup, liqueurs, and more; all of its facilities are open to tourists. Also visit Laura's Herb and Spice Garden (near Perdmontemps, St. David; 473-443-2604), where you can see what all the delicious spices look like before they're picked.


The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at update@outtraveler.com if you have any new information.
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