Cracked Conch: The perfect lunchtime getaway

We may not think of George Town in the same way we would a big city, like Miami or Toronto, but there is no doubt that it can get pretty packed in the Cayman Islands’ capital when there are a few cruise ships in town, and everyone is driving between offices, banks and shops. When you want a change from the hustle and bustle of downtown, head to Cracked Conch for a relaxing lunch by the sea.

It was a lovely breezy day when I headed north with my mother along the coastal road. A cold front had blown in that morning, so although the sun was shining, the air was cool and inviting.

We pulled into the parking lot of Cracked Conch on North West Point Road – a famed restaurant that for many years has been settled in its prime position overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

We were led to a table in the main restaurant, a breezy venue with light blue shutters and ceiling fans, offering beautiful views of the water. Our server, Sandra, gave us a rundown of the new items that had been added to the menu, and after a short discussion, we agreed that we would love to try a sample of each one.

As we sipped on cranberry juice, we basked in the casual atmosphere of the place. Cracked Conch sits in front of Macabuca, an open-air bar on the water with flags flying for Canada, USA, the Cayman Islands, the UK and, of course, SCUBA. The dive shop downstairs has easy access to some of the nicest dive sites off Grand Cayman, and the water is so clear, you’d almost swear you can see the fish from the restaurant.

First came the piping hot Johnny Cakes with homemade flavored butters. These are an excellent alternative to the usual dinner rolls, and very, very easy to eat. We had two each, and could have kept going, but then would have had no room for anything else. Try to pace yourself with the Johnny Cakes – they become addictive.

What followed was a delicious, six-course journey through some new and exciting dishes that the team in the Cracked Conch kitchen has been putting together for the season. We started with the short rib ravioli; a previous dinner-only option that is so popular, it is now available on the lunch menu. It has a distinctive, rich flavor with tender meat that just melts in your mouth. If you love a bit of truffle in your dish, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Next came the shrimp tortellini with a chipotle tomato vinaigrette that added just the right amount of kick. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, accompanied by roasted artichokes, zucchini, and snow peas.

As our empty plates were whisked away, so the third dish arrived: Niman Ranch braised pork belly. The pork belly is cooked using the sous vide method, and is served with roasted local pumpkin, a homemade coconut reduction and just a touch of scotch bonnet sauce if you fancy your food a little spicy. Fans of pork will definitely want to choose this option for lunch.

Next up was the grilled spelt pizza. This is an ideal choice for the vegetarian in the group, with tasty zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomato emulsion and cheese atop a crisp base. It can also be easily adjusted to make it vegan-friendly. The chef merely omits the cheese and it’s good to go.

By the way, it should be noted that the Cracked Conch is happy to accommodate customers with specific food requirements to ensure that all can enjoy their dining experience.

Even though we’d already had two Johnny Cakes each, and four courses, we were not full. This sample-style way of eating was clearly the way to go. Bring on the fifth course!

Sandra conveyed the Dijon marinated mahi-mahi to the table, with yukka fries, fruit dip and petite salad. Mahi-mahi is a nice meaty fish, and the portion was just the right size. We cleaned our plates, and prepared for our final course before dessert.

The sixth and last dish was the local organic slow roasted spiced chicken leg with creamy parsnip linguini. I have to say that although it was a difficult call, considering all the other wonderful creations, this was definitely one of my top picks. Maybe it’s because I love creamy pasta dishes, or maybe it’s because the chicken was simply delicious. Whatever it was that made my taste buds sing, it was the perfect end to a perfect lunch.

Did I say “end”? Well, what I meant was the end of the main courses. We still had dessert to come. It would have been rude not to indulge!

I chose the frozen key lime pie, and my mother chose the vanilla crème brûlée. My dessert was an excellent balance of tart and sweet, and Mum’s crème brûlée was divine; exactly the right consistency. Trust me; Cracked Conch does not flag when it comes to the desserts. Save room.

It had been a lovely lunch, and a wonderful setting in which to enjoy it. Sandra was a fabulous server – ask for her when you go.

Cracked Conch has been around longer than most restaurants in the Cayman Islands, and when you dine there, you’ll see why. There is always something delicious on the menu, and the location can’t be beat for lunch or dinner.

 

 

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Stephen Clarke