By Maureen LoBue
My mistake was in the interpretation of the phrase “best steak house on island.” When my date suggested we check out this local phenomenon, I immediately began thinking of which pretty dresses and high heeled shoes might be appropriate for such an auspicious eatery. Imagine my surprise when my date arrived in shorts, T-shirt, and sandals. I thought, “Well, this is going to be embarrassing, walking in with him!” And it was. However, the embarrassment was on me.
El Sol Restaurant and Bar turned out to be a tiny restaurant on a pothole-filled obstacle course of a side road. It consists of a small kitchen with a window where patrons order from the menu taped to the wall and a collection of folding tables and chairs on the gravel outside. You park at the end of that gravel, just before reaching the tables.
Once over the initial adjustment, the mouth-watering aroma of grilling steak and other temptations came into sharp focus. By 6 p.m. the place fills with people waiting for eat-in or take-out orders. According to the owner’s son, Gabriel Laurencia Jr., take-out business is brisk. One reason is that they prepare meals quickly, even steaks that locals often prefer to be cooked well done.
Gabriel and Angela Laurencia started El Sol 13 years ago as a neighborhood bar after Gabriel retired from 30 years as a butcher. It started with the bar and a kitchen with one small stove and oven. Their reputation quickly spread and five years later they expanded into a restaurant with additional kitchen facilities and seating areas. Today it has grown from one to 12 employees.
So, what is the secret of their success? Gabriel Jr. believes it is first and foremost his father’s talent as a butcher. All steaks and chicken are cut fresh on the premises daily. Seafood, shrimp, octopus, lobster, and fish are also fresh. You won’t find any large food freezers here.
Second, all recipes include a touch of Latin flavor. This is their signature, and no, he would not share any secret ingredients!
Third, and very important, is connection to the community. This is truly a local restaurant where families have been coming and bringing friends for years. When people arrive they stop to say hi to those in line and to the cook and staff. There is a closeness and comfort here that comingles with the tantalizing aromas.
The steaks are indeed best on island. But two other dishes compete for the title of favorite. Chicken lovers order the popular Chicharrones de Pollo (Latin-Style Fried Chicken) that includes a healthy portion of seasoned rice and beans for $10. Seafood aficionados savor the seafood salad with sweet chunks of lobster, fresh conch, octopus, onions, and red and yellow peppers.
You can find this local gem at 226 Peter Rest, St. Croix, USVI, or call for take-out or to order ahead: (340) 778-6986. Bring your appetite and a friendly “hi,” and leave the dress and heels at home!
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