Just about catty-corner from Price Hill Chili, this nice, clean little storefront is decorated with travel posters from Cuba and the islands, and is owned and operated by a man who is … not Caribbean.
“I was married to a Puerto Rican woman for 35 years and these are her recipes,” Basil Balian explains. Just when you are on the verge of offering condolences, he goes on to say that she’s moved to Miami. OK! No condolences necessary, I guess!
My Venezuelan friend asks Balian if he learned to speak Spanish while they were married. “If I had known what she was saying,” he says, with the air of a man who might have told this joke a few times before, “we probably would have only been married 20 years.”
Anyway, this retired engineer definitely learned a few things about cooking from his Puerto Rican wife.
We tried to sample just about everything he serves and there were some standout dishes. He makes good empanadas ($2.25) — vegetarian, pork or beef, all sealed in flaky pastry turnovers and fried nice and crispy. The vegetarian filling had soft cooked potato cubes, nicely seasoned. The ground pork filling was very mild — I’d almost prefer that they were seasoned more like chorizo and less like breakfast sausage. But the beef was our favorite — moist, but not greasy, and rich with adobe chili.
Try the tostones! They’re only a buck and you won’t find them anywhere else locally. They’re made from not-over-ripe plantains, smashed into a pancake, salted and fried. Go ahead and eat them while they’re hot, though, because that’s when the flavor is best; as they cool they can get a little chewy.
The combo platters are an amazing deal. You get a scoop of rice topped with homemade stew, an empanada and a couple tostones or potato cakes for just $3.50. There are four thick, hearty stews to choose from, and the three we tried were all tasty. Our favorite was the Spicy Coconut Chicken, full of tender chicken cubes and chickpeas and flavored with yellow curry. The Citrus Chicken had a nice fresh lemon tang and reminded me of dinner at home with my first real boyfriend, who was Cuban. And when I added a little Savannah hot sauce to jazz up the Black Beans with Meat, it was muy bueno.
Desserts are store-bought flan and rice pudding. Caribe stocks a cooler full of interesting juices along with American soft drinks, including coconut water, mango and guava ($1.25). Take some home and mix in a little rum, and all you’ll need is a palm tree to complete the scene. Oh, and be sure to take along cash. The prices are low and they don’t accept credit cards.
Caribe Carryout is located at1221 Rulison Ave. in West Price Hill. It’s open 1-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and noon-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 513-236-0260.
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