By Elizabeth Keyser
9:40 PM EDT, May 13, 2013
Maddy's Food Truck
Griot: a French word for the traveling poets, musicians and storytellers of West African. Griot: a Haitian dish of morsels of tender, spicy, fried pork. I haven't yet figured out how these two meanings are connected, but I'm here to sing the praises of this classic Haitian dish. Like those traveling musicians, you'll be singing praises too if you go to Maddy's Food Truck. Maddy's is the newest addition to Stamford's international food scene. Opened April 2, it's the only place to get Haitian food in the city.
Haitian cuisine is influenced by Spanish, French and African cultures. The flavors are bold and fresh. It's seasoned with fresh herbs — thyme, parsley, scallions — and garlic, onions, citrus juice and habanero peppers.
Griot is the most popular dish at Maddy's. The chunks of pork shoulder are marinated with herbs, spices and the juice of bitter orange, then simmered until tender. Then it's quickly fried. Which creates moist, flavorful, caramelized chunks of pork. Maddy's substitutes lime when they can't get bitter orange, and on the day I tried it, the lime flavor added a bright accent. In Haiti, a similar dish called tassot is made with goat. Maddy's serves tassot boeuf, made with cubes of beef.
Spicy pickled cabbage comes with griot and tassot, and whoa, it's spicy! The raw cabbage is crunchy, with the sharpness of vinegar and lime and the smoky flavor of habanero peppers. The traditional side of twice-fried plantain soaks up the heat. The chef uses green plantain, slicing the starchy banana relative on an angle, frying it, then smashing it, and frying again.
A dish that brings a smile to Haitian customers is black mushroom rice, or riz djon djon, as it is known in Haiti. The dried djon djon (black mushrooms) are soaked in water to rehydrate, and then the rice is sautéed in oil, garlic and onion and cooked in the water with the mushrooms. Maddy's also serves yellow rice with small red kidney beans.
Another popular dish is the fried conch. It's marinated, lightly floured and deep fried until golden. The day I tried it, the conch was tender and sea-flavored. The tartar sauce is a kicky habanero-infused mayonnaise.
Smith St. Juste, chef and owner of Maddy's, says his customer base is broad. "There's no one group," he says, "It's everyone. I didn't just want to target Haitian people. Stamford is a big melting pot." Maddy's also serves American food, and St. Juste puts his Haitian touch on it. The hearty grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, one of his top three most popular dishes, features avocado. Maddy's also serves Jamaican jerk chicken and gives a nod to Mexico with a chicken quesadilla.
To drink, he offers Cola Lacaye, a fruity Haitian soda sweetened with cane sugar. He hopes to introduce fruit juices this summer. (In the meantime, around the corner on Columbus Park, Chocopologie Cafe has just started serving fresh fruit juices. Fresh pineapple sounds like the perfect drink to have with griot.)
St. Juste grew up in Haiti and moved to Stamford when he was 11. In college, he started to study computer science, but discovered his heart was in cooking. He got a degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, and worked as a chef in hotel chains including Westin, Doubletree and Marriott. "I made contemporary American cuisine," he says. In 2004, he started Roseapple Catering, and continues to run that business, offering American — or whatever his customers desire. Maddy's also provides catering, and the truck can be rented for events.
St. Juste always wanted to start his own restaurant, but the cost was prohibitive. He'd never really thought about food trucks as anything other than something that sold hot dogs, until he went to Miami last year. He started noticing all the trucks serving homemade pasta, Thai food, Mexican and Cuban. He attended a food truck show. When he stepped inside a truck, "I realized it was just a small kitchen."
"It opened my mind," he said. "Now I had an option to start my own business without the brick-and-mortar overhead costs." He bought a one-year-old truck, added a flat top, steam table and more refrigerator space, and painted the outside an eye-catching bright blue with red lettering and added colorful drawings of food and food trucks. He named the business after his young son Madan.
The biggest pleasure of running a food truck, he says, is to see people's reactions to his food. "What's great here is that you hand the food to your customer and you see them taste it, and when they smile and say it's the best they've ever tasted, that makes you feel great."
Where can you find Maddys colorful blue truck? Usually on weekdays it's in downtown Stamford on Bell Street (right off Atlantic). It will be one of the rotating food trucks parked outside the Beer Garden at Harbor Point, and on weekends Maddy's will be at Veterans Park. For an updated schedule, follow Maddy's on Twitter (@maddysfoodtruck), or call (203) 550-2464.
Copyright © 2013, WTXX-TV