There are some meals that stick with you for the rest of your life. Often, they come from unexpected places. You’re just eating, drinking, laughing before you realize, “Holy shit, life is pretty amazing right now.” This is the story of one of those moments.
A few years ago, my girlfriend and I took a cruise to the Bahamas.
I know, I know.
I had wanted to travel, but I was making next to nothing at my last job. Also, my employer’s vacation policy was fine by American standards, which is to say it was garbage by European standards.
I didn’t have much money or time, so I did what I had to. I was leaving the country dammit, even if it was on a bloated boat filled with equally bloated Americans.
Luckily, there was a cruise leaving from Charleston, which meant we could drive to port from North Carolina. As one of the best food cities in the nation, Charleston was an exciting proposition. I was able to save up a little money to blow at Husk and The Grocery. While the meals I had at each respective restaurant were amazing (seriously go to Husk), they are not what this piece is about.
I knew the cruise would be making two stops, Freeport and Nassau. I was determined. The tourist traps near port in Nassau would not ensnare me. There was no way I was stepping foot in fucking Atlantis. If I had to get to a different country on a cruise, the least I could do is actually see that country for a few hours.
The good stuff, though. Not the duty free jewelry and Señor Frogs and lame t-shirts. There would be plenty of people still flocking to those things. They didn’t miss my money. No, I wanted a proper Bahamian meal—or, at least, as proper as I could get without actually eating at somebody’s home.
When we stopped at Freeport, pretty much everyone who got off the boat went to one of the nearby beaches. There were some people that didn’t get off the boat, though. It seems to defeat the purpose of traveling to the Caribbean but whatever. I’m sure they enjoyed the lunch buffet and $8 margaritas.
Despite being crowded with the cruise crowd, there are pleasant memories of that beach. Vivid memories.
I swam in turquoise and azure waters and sat on white sand. The sun felt like it was right on top of us, like I could touch it if I wanted to, but it wasn’t unpleasant. How could it be? It also became obvious that there is no better drink than a cold Sands lager in the shade of a beachside hut—well, maybe save a simple rum cocktail.
After a few hours, we returned to the ship to eat with the people who didn’t leave. They didn’t seem to think they missed anything.
Nassau was next.
I did some research beforehand and decided on a place called the Cricket Club. It’s only a little more than a mile from the cruise terminal and downtown Nassau, so I reasoned it would be a relatively easy journey. It sits next to a cricket pitch in the shadow of a colonial fort—a beautiful architectural relic and at the same time, an ugly reminder of why the people of color there speak English.
We got off the boat and started walking past all the duty free shops and scooter rentals. As downtown started to fade, the commotion died down, and there was a noticeable absence of fanny packs. To me, it indicated that the quality of the food was rapidly improving.
No sizzling fajita platter for me, thank you.
She’ll never admit it now, but I suspect my girlfriend wasn’t confident that I could actually find this place. As doubt even crept into my own mind, a long driveway leading to worn colonial building appeared out of nowhere like a beacon. We had found it.
It wasn’t immediately obvious that the Cricket Club was open when we walked in the door. A young server assured us that they were indeed open for lunch and led us up a staircase to a seat on the veranda. We were alone; that suited me just fine.
The breeze across my face in the shade of the veranda will remain in my memory forever. The view of the unbelievably blue water will, too. To date, it’s one of the most satisfying earthly experiences I’ve ever had. Of course, there was still a meal to be had.
The restaurant offers British pub fare (another colonial relic) but also simple island classics. I opted for island style grilled red snapper, peas and rice, plantains and macaroni. I’m sure most meals in such a beautiful setting would seem great, but the food truly was fantastic.
The snapper came whole, which is something that’s off-putting to many Americans. But come on, you’re an adult. You can look a fish in the eyes if you’re going to eat it. Plus, after hours of watching Anthony Bourdain, I learned the meat from the cheek of the fish is delicious.
The snapper was moist (sorry!) and had just enough spice—not cooked to death and dried out like so many fish dishes gone wrong. The sides were pure comfort. They were simple, but that’s not to say inferior. You don’t need to overthink mac n’ cheese, rice or the starchy goodness of plantains.
Between bites of snapper and gulps of cold beer, I tossed peas to a little sparrow that decided to dine with us. Laughter filled the veranda as he hopped around, excited for the attention. The two of us shared smiles across the table—tired and reddened by the Caribbean sun yet comforted. I realized how lucky I was. I would have been a fool or jaded or equal proportions of both not to see that.
To be anywhere else at that exact moment would have been a tragedy.
And that's how I knew it was a meal I would remember.