The desert island trope is dismal: a poor stranded soul, rag-clad and starving, unrelenting sun above, a pithy ironic caption below. Humor as dry as the unshaded sand. Marooned pirates, shipwrecked castaways — no one washes ashore by choice. At least, that’s what cartoonists and clever Caribbean tourist bureaus want you to think. “Nothing to see here, folks — keep sailing.” But here’s a secret map to paradise. Because for those in the know, those with properly sun-baked brains, those who talk to parrots and volleyballs, those, in other words, a little island-mad, these beaches bask in abundance. Here’s a hidden harbor where drinks are large and over-garnished, naps luxuriously long, soups slow-simmered, sauces spicy, and everything is zested in lime. The treasure is yours: Horde it close, and don’t tell any landlubbers.
Original Orgeat // BG Reynolds // Portland, OR
The secret to a real, islander-approved Mai Tai isn’t in the thread count of the bartender’s Hawaiian shirt, or the authenticity of the Tiki mug. It’s in the syrup. Authentic orgeat is made with almonds and cane sugar — sail-by-night imposters are all high-fructose this and artificially flavored that. Be sure to mix it right: a shot of golden rum, a dram or two of curacao, a squeeze of lime, a sprig of mint, and a few hearty dashes of orgeat, shaken with ice. You don’t even need a cocktail umbrella.
Haitian Pikliz // The Craic & Blonde // Boston, MA
The spicy Haitian slaw that anchors every island meal, stands sentinel on every beachside countertop, pikliz (yes, we spelled it right) is a Caribbean staple. So when Craic & Blonde’s founder landed in Ireland, the first thing she did was whip up a batch. And then, when her friends quickly depleted it, another. Now it’s a business — and Boston-based — but the sauce is the same: shredded veggies and fiery habaneros, delicious right from the jar or as a salsa or side, paired with an appropriately peppery protein. Try chicken, marinated in scotch bonnets and spice, butterflied and barbecued. Just make sure to let it rest, and keep a well-stocked cooler close at hand to tame the flames.
Coconut Lime Caramels // Salt + Flint // Lawrence, KS
The candy aisle is paved with compromises. We’ll put up with a lot when it comes to satisfying that sweet tooth: dyes and preservatives, silly names, and even — bless our sinning souls — artificial shredded coconut, as long as it’s coated in chocolate. But we draw the line at caramels. A candy so decadent and, let’s face it, one that if all goes well we’ll be chewing, and chewing, for ages, should be perfect. No cut corners. And these are. The coconut comes through, but subtly (fear not, Mounds-phobes) and is brightened and balanced with a refreshing spritz of lime. You’ll savor every tooth sticking morsel and not regret a bite.
Heirloom Black Calypso Beans // Rancho Llano Seco // Chico, CA
On this two-and-a-half-century-old central-California Mexican land grant, when the cowboys finish herding heirloom cattle, they ride the oak savannah, beckoned home by hearty farmhand soup: Caramelized onions, a charred jalapeño, a bay leaf or two, and these plump and polka-dotted beans, succulent and slowly simmered. A Caribbean native that thrives here in the fertile soil, Calypsos can give even landlocked cowpokes a taste of the islands. Hey, paradise is where you find it.
Lager N Lime Peanuts // Hops & Nuts // Greensboro, NC
Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink? No worries, as long as there’s beer, and, of course, some munchies to go with it. The best pairing for a lime-wedged lager, besides a hammock and a wave-rippled sunset, is, of course, a handful of peanuts. To properly satiate while you hydrate and luxuriate (hey, island life is hard…), reach for a bag of these North Carolina redskins, dusted in sea salt and spritzed with lime juice. Then kick back and watch for the green flash.
Teriyaki Brisket Jerky // Chops // New Haven, CT
Jerky was born of necessity — spoil-proof sustenance for long, backcountry rambles. And most these days still tastes that way. A chewy chore, not a choice: old cows, sunbaked into last-resort protein fuel. But can jerky be a treat? When it’s done right: USDA choice brisket, fresh and tender as a quality steak, popping with pepper and pineapple juice, tangy and tender and, dare we say, even refreshing. Fresh from the saddlebag or, as we like it, skewered with a few chunks of pineapple and chared quickly on the grill.
June 2017 Mantry | Island Time Vol. 2 Mantry