East meets west

West Indian flavors made fresh daily at Randy’s.

Share on Nextdoor
click to enlarge RANDY’S ROTI: The open-faced curry goat with curry potatoes, steamed cabbage and a basket of homemade roti bread. - Arielle Stevenson
Arielle Stevenson
RANDY’S ROTI: The open-faced curry goat with curry potatoes, steamed cabbage and a basket of homemade roti bread.

Inside Randy’s West Indian Restaurant in St. Petersburg, a musical style called chutney blasts from the speakers, a mix of traditional Indian music and Trinidadian Soca. The walls are dotted with posters of Bollywood stars, there are statues of Buddha and Ganesh, and the air is spicy.

“The West Indies run from Jamaica down through Trinidad,” employee Aruna Sookoor says. “A lot of people come here thinking it is traditional Indian food, but Indian food is more spicy than ours, and we use fresh herbs and spices instead of dried.”

West Indian food combines African, European, East Indian, Caribbean and Chinese influences.

“It’s totally normal to see Chinese fried rice with curry on the menu,” says Sakoor.

Sure enough, Randy’s menu includes chicken fried rice for $4.99. There's also homemade curry with chicken, duck, goat, beef and shrimp; oxtails with rice; jerk chicken; and homemade roti.

“This is a home away from home for a lot of people,” says owner and manager Randy Jhagroo. He grew up in Trinidad and moved to the States 14 years ago, opening the restaurant in a nondescript strip mall on 13th Avenue N. and 34th Street four years ago.

For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, Sookoor and Jhagroo recommend starting with a curry chicken.

“Guyanese call it chicken curry,” Jhagroo says. “Trinidadians call it curry chicken.”

Everything on the menu is priced under $9; to call the portions hefty would be an understatement. The open-faced roti is much more than a sandwich; it's a mound of curry potatoes, stew and steamed cabbage that comes out with a basket of hot roti bread.

Roti is a thin, grilled flatbread used when eating curry, similar to injera or other unleavened breads. It’s somewhat tortilla-like but thinner, coated in butter and spices. Every house and restaurant has its own roti recipe, drawing on traditions from Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriame. Order your roti open-faced and scoop stew and potatoes with the roti, or order it as a wrap and eat it with fork and knife.

Don’t bite down too hard, though, because the bones are still in there. American palates may not appreciate the surprise, but the bones add to the flavor.

“Boneless chicken breast doesn’t make the same broth as bone-in chicken, you know?” Sookoor says.

For a vegetarian snack, try the doubles ($1.50), a common street food in the Caribbean composed of two layers of bata (fried flatbread with turmeric) and filled with curried chickpeas or channa. Add a little of Jhagroo’s special homemade hot sauce for an extra kick.

Jhagroo sees a lot of business from the Guyanese community, but the array of backgrounds passing through Randy’s is as diverse as the menu. On a recent Saturday, the restaurant is alive with different accents and different languages.

“When people come here,” says Jhagroo, “they can network with other people that came from where they come from.”

And eat some delicious food, of course. Every morsel of roti-wrapped curry goat is rich and tender, sprinkled with fresh spices and cilantro. Wash it all down with a West Indian drink like the Carib Lager, and you'll know why this comfort food has cross-cultural appeal.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.