It’s far too easy when writing, especially about food, to slip in to over-used phrases like “hidden jewel", so while I’ll spare you that I will say that I recently ate at a place I’d never seen or heard about (in person or on the interwebs) and it ended up being one of the best meals I’ve had in Boston.
Creole Cuisine is nearly off the grid- there’s no website, a solitary Yelp review, and a Yellow Pages listing (those are still around?) that includes a fax number and AOL email address but no hours. Its located on a narrow side street in Waltham with an appearance that is as nondescript as it gets: an aged neon sign hangs in the window but is not plugged in and the single source of interior light comes from a glowing refrigerator behind a spare counter. My friend Matt heard it was an authentic Haitian spot, he has spent a lot of time in there and goes back often, so we leveled our expectations and took a shot in the dark.
As the front door jangles I follow Matt’s lead as he yells out a hearty, “Bonjour!" We move through five small patio tables set with silk roses towards the kitchen with its vaguely spicy aroma and sounds of batter frying in oil. Two women emerge and while Matt charms them in perfect Haitian Creole I smile and deflect questions-"Je parle un petit peu Francais…" There’s no menu posted, so Matt negotiates the contents of his lunch plate- fried chicken with diri cole (dirty rice), picklies (spicy pickled veggies, whatever they have on hand), legim (reminiscent of an Indian saag- spiced vegetables, cooked down), and a few fried plantains. I almost get the same, sub goat and regular rice and beans, until I see the look on one woman’s face when she describes the fried red snapper- “That! Tell her I want that!"
"This might take awhile," Matt warns. In Haiti, like many places outside the U.S., lunch moves at a slower pace and isn’t exactly dictated by the customer. The ordering process felt chaotic, but Matt says it’s just he’d expect if he were right back there, under a roadside lunch tent: “Think systematically, but expect to haggle." Speaking of which, one of the women (sensing my confusion?) gives us a menu to look at, almost as an afterthought. The prices make no sense (rice and beans for $10, same price as fried pork or beef?! fried plaintains for mystery price?) and I’m glad to have Matt as my cultural, and literal, translator for this first go.
All confusion is swept away, though, when they bring our food (a mere few minutes later!). Now we are all speaking the same language…Matt’s chicken is tender and crunches in that satisfying way only good fried chicken can; my (whole!) fish comes right off the bone in beautiful white flakes wrapped in crisp, perfectly spiced skin; and the beans and rice of both varieties possess a flavor that elevates the whole way beyond their humble parts. Our to go containers are filled to the brim but I manage to eat it all, tossing in some pickly for crunch factor and pouring a mystery sauce (with a sambar-like consistency) over everything. Nothing is bland- there are traces of peppers and epis (a signature Haitian spice consisting of garlic, parsley, green onions, thyme, and more peppers) in every component.
While I can’t tell you exactly what you can get or how much it will cost, I can say that whatever you have at Creole Cuisine will probably be delicious. The unknown will be layered with the familiar, like mystery sauce over fried chicken, and it will leave you wanting to come back, eat it again, and and learn more.
Creole Cuisine Plus is located at 33 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA (within walking distance of the commuter rail). If you don’t have a “Matt" use these pictures to describe what you want with your lunch plate- we paid $12 for each.