Monday, March 30, 2009

Eating Out: Tassa Roti Shop

One of the drawbacks to living in suburbia is that the selection of interesting independent restaurants is quite slim. This wave of dining establishments built around a shopping center nucleus has given way to a proliferation of crappertank restaurants like Applebee's, Chili's, Firehouse Subs, Moe's, Shane's BBQ, and Beef O'Brady's. Throw in your obligatory pizza joints, American-Chinese take-out haunts, and Americanized Mexican restaurants (you won't see nachos or fajitas in the authentic places), and you have a crowded restaurant scene with very few truly tasty options. Chick Fil-A and Waffle House are both Atlanta-based chains (and my two guilty pleasures), so they're not in the "bad" category. But still, the lack of a truly unique dining spot can be a little frustrating sometimes; so I was most thrilled when I first discovered the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago served at Tassa Roti Shop. Big thanks go to my former executive chef Dean Dupuis for turning me on to this little pink house on Johnson's Ferry Road in Marietta, just down the way from Harry's Farmer's Market.

Owned by Trini couple Shaddick and Ria, Tassa Roti Shop specializes in filled rotis, but offers up a number of full plate meals, plus a lunch buffet (all day on weekends). A roti is basically a large, thin flatbread that is filled with your choice of meat (chicken, beef, duck, goat, and shrimp), a curried potato mixture, then you get to choose from a selection of hot sauces and chutneys before it is all rolled up like a burrito. If you get one of the hot sauces, I implore you to get the apple chutney as well. The sweetness really helps to mellow out the intense heat of the scotch bonnet peppers. Also, as a word of warning, I would recommend all first-timers starting with a shrimp roti. I've had the goat and duck as well, and they contain an alarming amount of bones. Everything is just hacked up with a cleaver and then stuffed inside your roti. Not that it isn't delicious--I just don't enjoy eating with an impending sense of dental peril.

The entree options are also incredibly delicious. Two nights ago, I had the oxtail plate, which featured meltingly tender braised or stewed oxtails served in their own sauce. The plate also offered up rice with peas, fried plantains, stir-fried cabbage, callaloo (which is essentially greens cooked down in chicken stock and coconut milk until smooth and creamy), and something called macaroni pie--which more resembled a sweet corn pudding with raisins than anything involving pasta. Washed down by a Jamaican ginger beer, the whole plate was the perfect balance of richness, sweetness, and spice. Really remarkable.

But the single best item on the menu at Tassa is something called "doubles." Often part of an island breakfast, this appetizer consists of a curried chickpea mixture stuffed between two (roughly 3") soft flatbreads, topped with your choice of hot sauces and chutneys, then wrapped in paper. I'm having great difficulty coming up with the words to describe how delicious this is, but a trip to Tassa isn't complete without one or two of these. And at only $1.50 apiece, they're a steal!

I have a certain fondness for ethnic restaurants where I am the only white person to be found--I just know the food will be better in these places. But one of my favorite aspects about Tassa is just how friendly everyone is. All of the diners seem thrilled to be there, and Shaddick and Ria couldn't be more hospitable hosts. And as with any place that specializes in an authentic cuisine, there's not a bit of kitsch to the whole place. It doesn't seem like you've walked into a storage unit for "Cool Runnings" memorabilia. Just really nice people serving the local food that they are so proud of. And I couldn't be more happy to indulge!

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