“Hundreds of cars go by every day [on a relatively busy part of South Brandywine Avenue] without stopping,” explained Debbie Budhraj, manager/owner of the two-month old Tropics Restaurant & Bar.
A native of Guyana and a restaurateur for ten years in Florida, she is now operating in a former auto parts store with a vast expanse of glass on the front of the building. Unfortunately, large signs declaring “Tropics Modern & Traditional Caribbean Cuisine” posted on the glass have not enticed many guests.
Pity. The food is terrific and the service is caring.
Dinner date John described Tropics as “a place in the making.” He deemed the food excellent though the menu is not complete, and therefore simply printed on one side of a single sheet of white paper.
Tropics Restaurant & Bar
WHERE: 201 South Brandywine Ave., Schenectady, (518) 372-2025, www. TropicalRestaurantAndBar.com
WHEN: Tue-Thur 11:00 a.m.–9:00 pm, Fri–Sat 11:00 a.m.–2:00 a.m., Sun & Mon Closed
HOW MUCH: $59.28 without alcohol, tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible, parking lot on side, all major credit cards accepted, music permits conversation, dancing Friday and Saturday nights
Servers, especially Debbie’s daughter Sierra, were friendly, knowledgeable and possessed “a natural instinct to please the customer,” added John.
Add to the good service cocoa brown walls, seven high-top tables with a whimsical fish motif, four walls decorated with photos depicting Caribbean shores, quiet tropical tunes supplied by an unobtrusive DJ, and a large dance floor.
On Friday Latin Night and Saturday Caribbean Night, the music is turned up and the restaurant becomes a lively dance club. The dancing, I hear, is a smash, but the kind of salsa I came for was the dipping variety.
The menu is divided into four parts: Appetizers, Entrees, Sides and Desserts. We avoided dishes that seemed ordinary like mac ’n’ cheese, fried chicken, steamed rice and steak fries, and zeroed in on the more exotic.
John’s eight medium sized Caribbean Fish Bites ($8) were served with a small mound of cabbage slaw accentuated with three discs of fresh cucumber, scallions, cilantro and a small cup of slightly spicy mango sauce. It was easily enough for a meal and John voted the dish his favorite.
My Plantain Green Fries ($6) were sliced lengthwise and accompanied by the same cabbage slaw/cucumber slices and a tartar dipping sauce (also excellent with the fish bites it was suggested). We both found them flavorful but a little dry. I substituted the mango sauce for the tartar sauce.
I am not fond of cilantro, but the Cilantro Lime Shrimp ($8) was excellent. At least four large succulent shrimp were piled atop a hill of perfectly seasoned white rice. Deep green sautéed cilantro leaves and lime juice tied the two major ingredients together with vibrant color and a piquant flavor, and the result was as much a taste thrill as it was a visual delight.
The Sweet and Sticky Ribs ($9) were my favorite. Five medium ribs, browned and crispy on the outside, tender and hot in temperature near the bone. John noted that the emphasis was on the meat and not on the slightly sweet red pepper laced sauce dotted with pieces of sautéed fresh garlic. Truly a winner.
We ordered Dhal Puri ($3), a soft flat bread inspired by an Indian recipe, and a side of Spicy Garlic Greens ($1, tender and flavorful spinach) to accompany John’s large Jerk Chicken ($7 for the small serving, $10 for the large) accompanied by rice and peas (which turned out to be rice and black beans). Both rice and chicken (four pieces) were savory, spicy and easily enough to feed two people.
The Dhal Puri was slightly disappointing; it was served without the traditional filling of cumin-flavored split peas or lentils.
Looking at desserts
Half the portion of our uneaten meal had already been wrapped. Nevertheless, we had an urgent need to study the dessert section of the menu — a simple task since there were only three items: Mango or Plain Cheesecake ($6), Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae ($5) or Flan ($5.50).
I’m a big flan fan and opted for the up-side-down caramel-topped custard. John ordered the Mango Cheesecake.
Both desserts had a similar texture — more cakey than creamy — though flavors were different. The cheesecake was mango flavored and topped with a piece of mango, a cherry, a sprig of mint, superfluous drizzles of berry and chocolate syrups and a small dollop of whipped cream. My vanilla-flavored flan was similarly over-decorated. A double case of gilding the lily.
The next time we visit Tropics, we’ll be eager to learn what new dishes have been added (as promised) to the menu, and we will be certain to order the Curry Goat and Oxtail entrees (each $14). We will also dine in the glass-walled front room with seven or eight tables, which is connected to the rear dining area and dance floor and bar by a hallway. Perhaps Debbie and her staff might consider softening the large glass windows with drapes or curtains.
But one can only accomplish so much in the beginning, and the most important features — food and service — are already intact.