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Roots And Fruits 

Sampling Caribbean cuisine

Even if you haven't been able to bask on the glistening sands of a Caribbean island this spring, you can still enjoy an assortment of island food in town. Caribbean food, also affectionately known as roots and fruits, varies from island to island. Jamaican and Cuban are perhaps the most popular, but also the best known. Lesser known cuisines, such as the dishes of the Dominican Republic, have their own sparkle and charm. What Caribbean food does have in common is its blend of New World and Old in a unique mix with indigenous ingredients.

One favorite island spot is Anntony's Caribbean Cafe. Ann and Tony Martin, mother and son, are natives of British Guyana and have been serving their legendary marinated rotisserie chicken since 1986. I go for their incomparable greens. Anntony's sauces are also available for sale in area grocery stores.

Anntony's Caribbean Café, 2001 East Seventh Street (in Pecan Point). 704-342-0749.

The best goat curry in town is at Austin's Caribbean Cuisine, a take-out-only place. Owners and cooks Austin and Yvonne Martin, from Kingston, Jamaica, opened this store in 1996. Old family recipes are the basis for the dishes, most of which are made in-house. Austin's selections rotate daily and they recommend calling ahead if you want a specific dish. But with the choice of jerks, curries, oxtail and beef stews, and ackee and salt fish, it would be hard not to find dishes that are bold and tantalizing. Housemade cocoa bread, made from the root malanga, is often found early in the day.

Austin's Caribbean Cuisine, 345 South Kings Drive. 704-331-8778.

Another take-out-only spot is tiny Catalina's Restaurant. This is a Spanish-speaking-only, Dominican Republic place which specializes in sancocho con arroz blanco, chivo picante con moro guandule, mofongo de camaron y chicharron and arroz abichuela y carne quisoda. Be adventurous: If you're not sure what these dishes are, order them all.

Catalina's Restaurant Dominican and International, 3800 Central Avenue. 704-777-1086.

Down Central from Catalina's is La Canasta Dominicana Restaurant, a cheerful, family-owned full-service restaurant. House specialties include plantain dishes such as mashed boiled plantain with a choice of salami, eggs or cheese; mashed fried plantain with either pork rinds or shrimp; and fried green plantain with the traditional tostones, a Dominican French fry. One of the best entrees is the ox tail stew, steeped in a gently spiced, rich brown sauce. The airy, not too sweet Tres Leche is a perfect island dessert.

La Canasta Dominicana Restaurant, 4808 Central Avenue. 704-536-0009.

Another notable island dessert is the sweet potato cheesecake pie found at Di Banana Boat. This small, bare bones Jamaican shop offers a choice between table and take out, but all orders are taken at the counter and food is served in styrofoam containers. The atmosphere is convivial and the prices are hard to beat. Boat's Jerk Chicken has the extraordinary taste of charcoal. The drink list includes Red Stripe beer, of course, Jamaican sodas, carrot juice and Irish Moss, a drink rumored to enhance a man's performance and promote overall well being.

Di Banana Boat, 7008 E WT Harris Blvd. 704-531-0075.

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