At Island Burger, guests are hit with “island fever,” as calypso and steel drum tunes fill the air while the aroma of freshly grilled burgers takes them on a tropical journey from Brooklyn to Trinidad.
Island Burger is one of dozens of Caribbean restaurants lining Utica Avenue in East Flatbush and attracting guests from near and far wanting a taste of the islands. But it stands alone as the sole eatery serving “gourmet fast food” like burgers, ribs and wings incorporating Trinidadian seasonings, spices and sauces, which co-owner Tracy Agarrat said gives their food a unique “twist.”
“In Trinidad, they cook and season everything differently than they do over here,” said Agarrat, 40, co-owner of Island Burger alongside her sister Linette Beckles, 34. “What we’re doing here is gourmet fast food – using different sauces that bring out the food’s real flavor.”
The London-born siblings had both discussed opening a retail store until Beckles made a huge discovery during a trip to Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, where they both lived for many years.
“My sister and her boyfriend had taken a trip to Trinidad over Christmas break and one night her and her boyfriend stopped by one of those beachside food stands,” Agarrat said. “The burger was so great that by the time they got home they decided to drive back to get more.”
Beckles, who along with her sister had previous experience in the restaurant business, proposed the idea of opening a restaurant to her back in New York. After scouring the neighborhood, the sisters noticed a pattern of Caribbean restaurants serving traditional foods like rice, peas and curry– but none serving fast food the “Trini way.” Eighteen months later, Island Burger first opened its doors.
Most entrée items are under $10, with most guests raving about “D Island Burger,” an 8-ounce beef patty topped with coleslaw, tomato, pineapple, and an array of sauces such as mango chutney, tamarind and garlic.
To longtime customer Tameeka Downing, the sauces make all the difference.
“They definitely bring out the real flavors of the food,” Downing said. “They have this mango sauce, garlic sauce, and tamarind sauce that all really bring it back to the island. You don’t get that in other restaurants.”
Even the takeout boxes are reminiscent of the southernmost Caribbean island where locals buy tasty eats from food huts along the beach.
“In Trinidad they use these white cardboard takeout boxes, I think they’re called chicken boxes,” Agarrat said. “We fold them and put the wax paper on top. People really like that – especially those from the Caribbean – they say, ‘Oh, they do it just like back home.’ ”
As hungry crowds started to fill the eatery late on a cold evening last Friday, the sounds of sizzling burgers on the grill intertwined with the Caribbean music broadcast through the radio. For a brief moment, it was another day in Trinidad.