Update: we’re sad to report that Cafe Turnier is now closed, though the plan is to now continue catering. (1/29/14)
We’d be willing to bet many of you have a mental to-eat list of restaurants you want to go to. And, we’d also be willing to bet that on that list, you don’t have many unsuspecting little hidden gems. Those tiny little, hole-in-the-wall hotspots that not a lot of people realize are amazing. After all, that’s why they’re called hidden gems. Well, our list had one of those spots on it, Cafe Turnier in Norwalk, and we finally had our chance to hit it up.
Owner and chef Ernst “Ernie” Turnier was kind enough to invite us in to meet up, talk, and try out some dishes. Who were we to refuse such an invite? And, who were we to refuse when Ernie asked us if we liked spicy food and if we loved Haitian and Caribbean food? Duh, duh, and more duh.
Ernie greeted us at the door of his small cafe, sat us down and got Dan a bottle of Dogfish Head 60 and Kristien a glass of red wine to start things off (Cafe Turnier is BYOB with a $10 corkage fee.) Then, he was off to the kitchen to get things going.
The first dish he brought us was meatballs. Damn. They were crispy on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside. The slaw that came on the side was spicy and added a nice, refreshing contrast. It was also served with a delicious, savory homemade sauce made from onions, tomatoes, and potato. Eat alll day long.
Next up was a classic dish that you see at many Jamaican and Caribbean restaurants: beef patties. Except, oftentimes restaurants cook it from frozen making it all heavy like a cannonball. Well, dear OmNomivores…Chef Turnier’s beef patty was nothing short of amazeballs. Whereas the typical patty has a thick layer of dough that is usually about three inches thick, the dough here was a light, delicate coating of flakey phyllo dough. The same phyllo dough that Ernie makes himself and lets rest for a day. It was crispy, crunchy, and delicate. And, usually the stuffing is a mess with way too much meat or not enough spices. Cafe Turnier’s version, though, had a nicely sized portion and was balanced well with just the right amount of flavor. Although beef is his best seller, you can also order chicken, cod, and black herring patties, too.
We also had a chance to taste his Legume, which is actually a stew, not a pea, bean, or a pod as you might imagine when you hear the word. Cafe Turnier’s is French inspired and is served with loads of flavorful veggies like chayote, eggplant, lima beans, peas, and cabbage. The soup is smoky, hearty, and satisfying, especially on the ridiculously cold night that we were there.
And, we also had a chance to try his Tostones. Now, look, we love plantains and eat them every single week. No, seriously, we do. While we tend to like ripe plantains, we will have tostones and enjoy them if they are done right. And, yes, they are done right here. They are served big, like a patty, with pickled veggies. The veggies were spicy and added a nice flavor to the heavy to stones with the acid cutting into the heaviness and starchiness. Finishing up, the rice that you can order with your meal is worth a meal by itself, too. It’s made with cloves, lima beans, and has a slight kick to it. Mmm mmm.
Although we only tasted a few of the dishes on Cafe Turnier’s menu, we did get to experience what the cafe is all about: good, down home from-scratch Caribbean cooking with a flair. We’ve promised ourselves to go back for their breakfast that gets rave reviews, especially from an awesome blogger friend named Alex.
And, we said we’d have to come back for dinner when Ernie changes the menu over to celebrate Cafe Turnier’s 3rd anniversary. The new menu will feature his classic dishes, but will also feature a menu for kids, gluten free dishes, and even vegan options. Also, we’re excited to try a brand new line of pastries that Ernie will be featuring.
So, we wouldn’t hesitate in sending you over. Ernie will treat you like a king, you’ll have delicious, unique, homemade food, and you won’t go broke in the process.Cafe Turnier Noms: TBD (from what we tasted, excellent) Cost: $$ Address: 115 Main Street Norwalk, CT Phone: (203) 846-0023