The French are right about so many things. The importance of good bread. The righteousness of mayonnaise. And you can go ahead and add Martinique to that list — a Caribbean island directly north of St. Lucia that is considered an overseas region of France. And now with the April 2013 launch of the first-ever direct flights from the mainland United States, the isle’s historically rich (and richly seafood-driven) French-Creole fare is finally within our easy reach.
So head down to MIA (direct flights are available on Saturdays via American Airlines), and get ready to go Gallic. From the region’s only A.O.C. rums to locally produced chocolate, here’s where to find the best tables in the French-Caribbean. Allez-y.
The cavernous covered market in capital Fort-de-France houses hordes of fruit vendors, card tables loaded with bottles of homemade rum punch and a few casual cafes. It’s also home to Chez Carole, a winning spot with what might be the island’s best Creole cuisine. Carole Michel’s take on accras, Martinique’s signature codfish fritters, deep fry the salty fish with freshly ground spices. It’s tempting to fill up early, but don’t miss entrées like coconut chicken and succulent stewed octopus. Marche Couvert, Rue Blenac, Fort-de-France 97200
A beach bar to end all beach bars, Le Petitbonum serves French-Creole fare on Martinique’s western, Caribbean coast. Chef Guy Ferdinand is a local institution. For nearly eight years, he has served up the island’s ubiquitous ti punch (two or three fingers of Martinican white rum, topped with a squeeze of fresh lime and pinch of local sugar), alongside magret de canard and plate after plate of perfectly fried seafood. Quartier le Coin, Plage du Carbet, Le Carbet 97221 babaorum.net
On an unassuming corner near Le Carbet beachfront, Ziouka spoons out creative, artisanal ice creams to make Momofuku Milk Bar blush. Using indigenous ingredients like vanilla bean, passion fruit and guava, plus fairly unimpeachable combinations like local banana and Martinique’s renowned HSE rum, this small storefront has won legions of local fans. Come early, and come often. 1 place Jules Grevy, Le Carbet 97221
Situated in the island’s Relais & Chateaux-approved Cap Est resort, Le Belém is a white tablecloth restaurant that reminds you that Martinique is indeed a part of France. The bar has attentive service, striking black and white photographs and nightly live music that ranges from steel drums to an elegant, husband-wife jazz duo. From the freshly grilled lobster to the extensive list of fine wines and Martinican rums, everything about Le Belém begs [tastefully] for a special occasion. Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa, La Prairie Le Francois, 97240 capest.com
Chocolaterie Frères Lauzéa
In what might be the most exciting strip mall culinary find this side of Singapore, Frères Lauzéa is an artisanal chocolate shop on a commercial stretch in Lamentin. The namesake brothers produce award-winning confections made with local passion fruit and red chile. They are also sponsoring Martinican cocoa farms in hopes of honoring its historical cash crop, and raising the chocolate bar on-island. The brothers will arrange guided rum and chocolate tastings on request. Imm. Bois Quarré, Quartier Mangot Vulcin 97232 Le Lamentin frereslauzea.com
Sleek design hotel La Suite Villa is filled with hand-picked modern art and a bold color palette that would be equally at home in Barcelona or Wynwood. Its Le Zandoli restaurant, curiously named after the Creole word for gecko, brings French chef Phillipe Mollé’s training in three-star Michelin restaurants to the exuberant space, with three-course tasting menus serving chilled gazpacho with salty bacon, beef filet with chanterelles and perfectly set passion fruit flan. La Suite Villa, Rte du Fort d'Alet, AnseMitan, Les Trois-Ilets, 97229 lezandoli.com
Le Francois at L’Ilet Oscar
In a lagoon called Josephine’s Bathtub, accessible only by boat, casually stunning L’Ilet Oscar seems utterly Martinican to its core. The breezy, private-island atmosphere makes friends of strangers, as do carafes of freshly brewed planter’s punch and bowls of deliciously carrot-laden accras, set on antique furniture and barstools made from old rum barrels. The warm, welcoming staff strolls through Le Francois restaurant in flip flops, offering simple, succulent Creole fare, while the general manager shuffles through his iTunes to soundtrack the meal with Martinique’s sultry zouk music. La vie est bonne. Ilet Oscar, 97240, Martinique
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