Food, rum, and dining with a view in Antigua
We ate very well on the island of Antigua. Fresh local lobster, shrimp, and other seafood was plentiful (so Mr. TWS especially was in heaven). Rum punches were fine accompaniments for a true Antiguan experience. Adding to the enjoyment were the opportunities to do some liming (Caribbean slang referring to “chilling out” or “hanging out”) with the locals. These five top the list of our favorite food experiences for the authentic perspective they provided of the island’s food, culture, and people. They are a sampling of the highlights of places we ate, what we learned, who we met, and the views we saw while liming and dining in Antigua.
Freshness, flavors, and fun at Nicole’s Table cooking class
I may not be a natural when it comes to cooking, but I love trying to improve my skills and learning new recipes. At a Caribbean cooking class with Nicole’s Table in Antigua, Mr. TWS and I combined fresh local ingredients with flavors of the islands producing a scrumptious meal.
Chef Nicole Arthurton Dennis created and runs several cooking classes for hands-on creation of Antiguan dishes in her hilltop home overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The very friendly and interesting Nicole welcomed our four fellow classmates and us into her home for an interactive Caribbean cooking experience and led us with warmth, humor, and lively instruction. She loves to share her knowledge and appreciation of local cuisine with others so they can enjoy these fresh, healthy traditional dishes (with her own special twists) and continue to enjoy them after they leave Antigua.
Nicole told us that since the time she was a young girl assisting her parents in their restaurant on Montserrat she’s had a love for cooking, largely inspired by her mother Pam. Although her background also includes years of business experience in the United States, Nicole knew that her heart belongs to the islands and so returned several years ago with her husband Adam. Prior to starting her cooling classes, Nicole was a private chef for an estate on the luxury island resort of Jumby Bay in Antigua and Barbuda.
Before class started, Nicole gave us a tour of her garden filled with spices, vegetables, and fruit and gave us time to take in the spectacular views of St. John’s Harbor and the Caribbean Sea. Nicole’s recipes are full of fresh fruit and vegetables from her garden and at the St. John’s Public Market where Mr. TWS and I shopped with Nicole in the early morning before our cooking class.
During the class, the interactions with the two other couples made the class extra fun. Nicole was great at keeping everyone involved while dividing the tasks to keep everything moving along nicely. One of the couples was staying in the Airbnb that Nicole and Adam have recently established in a separate part of their home. What a view for them to enjoy!
Nicole’s Table offers four cooking classes. We took the “All About Jerk” class preparing traditional Caribbean jerk chicken, appetizers, and dessert. Nicole generously shares many of her recipes on the Nicole’s Table website including those on our menu — Coconut Crisps, Green Plantain Chips with Pineapple Salsa; Jerk Chicken (or Tofu for vegetarians like Mr. TWS (a pescatarian) with Grilled Pineapple, Sweet Plantain Tostones, Red Beans and Rice in Coconut Milk, Garden Salad, and Coconut Custard Tarts (some prepared with chocolate). Our meal was accompanied with Nicole’s Old Fashioned Rum Punch.
When the preparation and cooking was complete, we sat down at a large hand-crafted table on the verandah with Nicole and our classmates to indulge in our meal. We felt a sense of accomplishment as we eagerly tasted the dishes whose aromas had been tantalizing us. So delicious!
A taste of authentic Antigua
Eat n’ Lime Food Tours, founded by Tiffany Azille-Henry in 2019, is about a three hour walking tour with a nice mixture of food, culture, history and sites — several points of historical and cultural interest including landmarks dating back to the 15th century. Tiffany is very charming and has much knowledge about Antigua. Her love of Caribbean culture and food shows in the enthusiastic manner she introduces guests to the sights and tastes of the island. Our meeting point was at Heritage Quay, the popular duty-free shopping area of St. John’s, and were soon on our way to our sampling feast.
At Island B-Hive, our first stop, we tried a refreshing Antiguan Wadadli beer and a seafood appetizer. Since it was not quite lunchtime, it was pretty quiet. But this is a very popular sports bar and is usually buzzing with locals and visitors day and night, especially for key sporting events and late night dancing.
Roti King serves delicious Caribbean fast food. I loved the chicken curry roti, a delicious thin type of doughy flatbread wrap filled with ample chunks of chicken and flavors, one of their specialties. The portions quite generous, so I found it hard to save room for the rest of the tour.
Brownie’s Bakery is a long-time local favorite for bread and pastries on the island. Tiffany told us about how great the sweet buns with Jamaican cheese and raisin are and she was not exaggerating.
One Stone Ital Shack, an open-air Rastafarian establishment very popular with locals, was our final stop on the tour. We were feeling quite full from all of the generous tastings we’d previously had, but we sampled a spinach ball which was delicious. Their menu has a great selection of healthy and vegetation options including fritters and pizza, pea balls, and cakes. There are tasty health drinks, too. I had one with main ingredients coming from the Moringa tree (all parts of which are edible, I’m told) which has been known from early times for its medicinal properties. I mainly chose it because it is not sweet. Mr. TWS had a sweet passion food drink. It was a very tasty conclusion to the tour and our first-ever taste of Rastafarian food.
It wasn’t all about food on the tour. We also got a wonderful introduction to rum at Quin Farara. In the photo below, Lisa Farara, granddaughter of the founder of the Antigua Distillery, is giving us some history of Antiguan rum.
Rum punch is the main alcoholic beverage that you’ll find in Antigua, but versions can be very different. They tend to be quite sweet but even if you don’t normally like sweet drinks (like me — more of a dry white wine person) try it wherever you go. A highlight of the visit was making our own cocktails, using the elements of rum punch making — one part sour, two parts sweet, three parts strong, four parts weak.
And there was even more, but this should give you a good idea on what to expect. Your tour might have additional or different stops.
Rum, food, and happiness at Papa Zouk
As soon as you enter Papa Zouk in St. John’s, you start to feel the Caribbean vibe and get wrapped up in looking all around at the diverse decor of artistic and nautical themes.
Bert Kirchner created Papa Zouk 22 years ago to be a place for serving the best rum on Antigua with his impressive collection of rums from all over the Caribbean. The fabulous seafood served at this rum house is just a part of the mix of what has made Papa Zouk a special place. When you come here, you most likely be greeted and presented with menu choices by the interesting and engaging owner himself.
The menu at Papa Zouk’s is the same as it was at the start. Bert said that his customers always wanted the same things, so that’s what he continues to offer. Also quite interesting is the fact that the restaurant’s current chef actually started as a dishwasher when Papa Zouk first opened and after three years she replaced the departing chef. To Bert’s surprise, she was able to flawlessly take over command of the kitchen because she had carefully observed the chef in action for three years.
The seafood is super fresh, a result of Bert’s dealings with the best local fisherman providing fresh catches each day. Mr. TWS had Papa Zouk’s signature entree — whole red snapper. I had another specialty — a lobster, shrimp, and mahi mahi dish. Mr. TWS also enjoyed an appetizer of Papa Zouk’s take on bouillabaisse with a Cajun twist.
The story behind the name of the Papa Zouk is one that goes back to Bert’s time on the island of Dominica where he came from his native Germany to start a scuba diving business. However, when he arrived, he found that a hurricane had destroyed the business he bought. Without other options, he took a job as a dive instructor where he became acquainted with Papa Zouk, a homeless deaf and mute man who stayed near the shop. Bert saw how this man, despite his circumstances, danced with clear joy to Caribbean zouk music. Although he could not hear the music, he felt it, exuding happiness with every move.
Bert left Dominica to make a better living in Antigua and later learned that Papa Zouk had died. Naming the rum house after him was Bert’s way of paying tribute to this old man who inspired him to appreciate the simple joys of life. Happiness is what Bert offers at Papa Zouk with rum, food, music, and friendships.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing we learned about Bert was about his newly-discovered talent as an artist. In March of 2020 Bert caught COVID. One day during his sickness, he got dizzy and fell, hitting his head on the hard floor. After he recovered, he one day just started to spontaneously paint using his daughter’s paint set. He was shocked to have developed what he believes to be “savant syndrome”. Bert paints all types of subjects and does them quickly — it only takes him a few days to do create his eclectic works of art, which he refers to as his “COVID art”. Some of his paintings are stacked next to each other in the bar, possibly because there is no more room on the walls. He’s sold over 60 of them in just this short time.
Bert also happens to be a filmmaker and Antigua and Barbuda’s film commissioner. He has great stories to tell about his roles and experiences, particularly regarding production of the movie Wendy and his involvement with the award-winning Duran Duran video, Rio. He recounted for us with enthusiasm the joy of the filming, finding out about the award, and his continued friendship with celebrities he’s worked with.
Location, location, location
Off the main road, a short drive along Little Ffrye’s Beach brought us to CocoBay Resort and our lunchtime destination at Sheer Rocks restaurant. We’d heard a lot about this place and its scenic location. While dining on the restaurant’s signature tapas, we were entranced by the fantastic views. Situated right above the water, we enjoyed the serene and romantic scenes on the beach and boats sailing by on the Caribbean. This was a real treat after our morning ziplining adventure.
Lobster on the beach
There’s something special about eating local food in a beach shack when you’re in the Caribbean. At Beach Bum Bar on Half Moon Bay Beach we had that experience.
Avery Henry and his wife Tippi are the owners who serve up scrumptious fresh seafood in a casual friendly atmosphere. It’s a small, lovely, open-air place with a perfect setting on the small crescent-shaped beach. This would be a bustling place in season with beach goers. We’ve been told that Beach Bum Bar is also a hangout for famous persons from various walks of life who visit the island. It’s a lovely romantic spot for lunch and enjoying the special vibe of the island.
I hope these few tastes of Antigua have whet your appetite as you consider a visit to the island. If you’re looking for a perfect mix of food, drink, culture, and liming, you’ll find it here.
Note: Antigua Barbuda Tourism Authority sponsored our island exploration, but the perspectives and recommendations in this article are strictly our own — as always.