That old adage that it's better to have one good friend than many mediocre ones is so true. And thankfully I have not only one good friend, but one that's also willing to eat basically whatever I put him up to.
The truth is, I am lucky to be rich in friendship, I just can't say that all of my friends are willing to tag along on all of my food adventures. My pal Craig, though, is one of them. So when we meet up for our regular lunch dates to talk about beer, history, kids, and whatever else is on our minds, I also know I can drag him along to eat whatever I'm feeling at the moment, as long as it's in downtown Albany (to accommodate work schedules).
Feeling tired of our usual haunts, a cursory search for "lunch, downtown Albany," on Google netted me a little jewel I've never heard of: Trinbago. Next door to Lombardo's On Madison Ave, the internet told me, but admittedly I walked past it twice and then went in the wrong door before realizing where the restaurant was.
What a lucky find it was. Bright, spicy flavors of the Caribbean perked up a dreary mid-March afternoon. The kindness of the staff and owner were enough to put a smile on my face. Paired with a great conversation with an even better friend, Trinbago might end-up being my new go-to lunch spot.
Nyota, the owner, was quick to start up a conversation as I perused the menu board. With a genuine passion that wasn't the least bit forced or intrusive, she happily explained what each dish was and how she prepared them. Keeping flavors true to her homeland of Trinidad, she explained how Trinidadian cooking differs from other Caribbean cuisine and how she came to own a restaurant in Albany. (Her sister lives in Canada, and Nyota came to Albany to care for her grandmother after the passing of her mother. Frequent trips back to her native island means she stays attuned to the taste of Trinidadian cooking.)
On her recommendation, I tried the doubles ($2), a classic Trini streetfood -- spiced fried dough filled with curried chickpeas, mango chutney, and the traditional hot pepper sauce of the island that relies on yellow habanero.
She also suggested I try her homemade sorrel drink ($3.50), which I happily accepted. (The last -- and only other -- time I've had it was at Heather Ridge Farm's supper club a year ago.) The drink is deep magenta, with floral tones of a hibiscus tea that quickly give way to a bitter, almost chicory flavor. A refreshing quencher to the spicy meal.
Craig and I opted to try to pholourie ($2.50), an airy, nugget of fried batter, lightly spiced with hints of saffron, akin to a hush puppy in the American South. They were served with a tamarind chutney and are completely addicting.
Oxtail ($12.50) and a small order of jerk chicken ($7.50) completed the meal. Either can be ordered extra spicy, with the addition of that habanero pepper sauce. We had the oxtail straight-up and the jerk chicken extra spicy, but probably could have relied on Nyota's traditional recipe. (While still good, the extra heat masked some of the other flavors in the tender, juicy chicken.) Both come with stewed cabbage and rice, which is cooked with pigeon peas, a hallmark of Trini cooking. (Other Caribbean cultures, Nyota told me, rely on red beans.)
The delivery person made many trips in and out of the jewelbox restaurant, toting many to-go bags each time, which has me believing that downtowners must already know the secret of Trinbago during the lunch hour.
As a food writer, I have to try out so many new restaurants that it is hard to justify making repeat visits to an establishment. Perhaps the highest praise I can give a restaurant -- especially one that has only been open a few months -- is the promise to be a frequent customer. And that's exactly what I plan to be at Trinbago.
More Eat This:
+ Mexican street corn at Ama Cocina
+ Egg in the Bread at The Breakfast Spot
+ Pancake breakfast at The Sap House at Stone House Farm
+ Lunch buffet at First Choice Caribbean (2014)
+ Mofongo de Chicharron at Casa Dominicana (2013)
+ Oxtail at the Dutch Pot (2013)
Trinbago Caribbean Restaurant
123 Madison Ave
Albany, NY 12202
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