Island Eats: Cacao Café on Guadeloupe

This past summer Zickie and I ran away to Guadeloupe, a collection of stunning islands (or archipelago) in the French Antilles. For us, Guadeloupe was a fascinating, incredibly beautiful mixture of French and Caribbean cultures, with staggeringly lovely scenery.

Guadeloupe is what they call a “department” of France, which means that it has some autonomy, but still maintains very close ties to the mother country in Europe. This translates to: French roads, French medicines, French police, and of course, lots of the French language! Although we did come across some Guadeloupeans who spoke some English, even a few words of French or a simple phrasebook would definitely help you explore the place locals call “Gwada.”

Our headquarters in this tropical paradise was Basse Terre island, well-known for its vivid green hills, winding roads, simple fishing villages, and gorgeous, unspoiled beaches. All of these things charmed us so much that when we saw a small place for sale, we started to do calculations on a piece of paper to see whether there was any way it might be affordable. (Fortunately, our landlord and Guadeloupe-guru Didier told us the place was way, way overpriced. But we haven't given up on our fantasy of a Basse Terre getaway.)

With so many Caribbean islands to visit, why would we think of returning to the same place, year after year? Obviously, beaches like Grande Anse with its sweeping cove of sand and turquoise sea have a lot to do with it. And I don’t think we’d ever get tired of the snorkeling off Plage Leroux, a beach fringed with Royal Poinciana trees. These are both in the Deshaies area, on the northwestern side of Basse Terre.

But one alluring factor that Zickie and I didn’t really expect was the cuisine. We’ve sampled a lot of Caribbean eats, from roti in Trinidad to conch fritters in the Bahamas, and quite frankly, can never get enough. But food in Guadeloupe still surprised us. The Creole cuisine had a subtlety, with delicious flavors that didn’t make you cry from hot peppers or extreme spices.

Somehow, even the most rustic dishes in the humblest beach front place tasted…refined. The intermingling of Creole with French influences was a refreshing and tasty phenomenon. Some of the restaurants we enjoyed were owned by Guadeloupeans, some by French folks from “la métropole,” and still others by escape artists of varying nationalities who arrived in this West Indian destination and never wanted to leave.

Two of the best restaurants we found was located right off Grande Anse beach in the Deshaies area. There are easily 6 or 7 spots here, about twenty feet from the sand and circled around a parking lot. None are fancy: these are open-air joints with plastic chairs and minimal décor. They also serve some of the best island eats Zickie and I have ever tried. Anywhere. No kidding.

Cacao Café has a little more atmosphere than the others, with cute striped awnings, but it’s still fairly simple. If you’re ever at Cacao Café at lunchtime, don’t miss out. It’s owned by a couple: the husband and cook is Portuguese, and the wife and server is French. They were both very friendly and welcoming.

Cacao Café is known for “Brochettes géantes,” which are truly giant skewers of meat, chicken, or seafood lovingly grilled to moist succulence and then served with some kind of reddish colored sauce so good you could eat it plain. The presentation is very impressive: the skewer of delectable food arrives on a contraption so that it stands straight in the air. Once you bite into the first piece, you don’t want to stop. Truly some of the most delicious meat you’ll ever eat, perfectly seasoned, not too rare, and not too well-done. Just right.

Everything we tried at Cacao Café topped our expectations. One day I ordered the goat cheese salad, just for something lighter after a lot of big meals, and it was absolutely terrific. Fresh, mixed greens with tomatoes and cucumbers, with toasts topped by yummy melted goat cheese. Our daughter’s meal came with frites or French fries that were crisp and hard not to steal! (The secret: cook the fries in peanut oil.)

Local beer, French wine, rum cocktails? They have that, too. And for dessert, they serve high quality ice cream, from the usual suspects (vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry) to exotic fruits. In fact, Cacao Café is known for its highly tempting sundaes or “coupes” of ice cream and toppings.

The prices are right. The welcome is friendly and casual. And the setting, just steps from Grande Anse, utterly fabulous. What’s not to love? We ate at Cacao Café three times, and our only regret: not eating there a fourth.

It’s easy to spend loads of cash on dinner or lunch, when you’re traveling. But the restaurants at Grande Anse beach, especially this one, proved to us that the best meals aren’t necessarily the ones served on white linen tablecloths or even at somewhere with the highest number of stars on a travel review website. Let’s put it this way: when we look through our photos of Guadeloupe and come to the pictures of Cacao Café, our mouths start to water.

I hope you get the chance to try their “brochettes géantes” and tell us what you think!

#guadeloupe #islandeats

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