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St. Thomas, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is most famous as one of the world's premier duty-free shopping destinations. The streets of its capital, Charlotte Amalie, are lined with an absolutely ridiculous number of jewelry stores, and filled with throngs of tourists looking for incredible bargains on diamonds, tanzanite, and a rare type of blue pectolite called larimar. However, there is another rare gem located here, hidden deep within an often overlooked alleyway, that has become a place of pilgrimage for foodies from all over the world. Gladys' Cafe might be a bit off the beaten path, but that's just part of its charm.

Gladys' Cafe is located in the Royal Dane Mall, on Charlotte Amalie's Main Street, also known as Kronprinsensgade (Crown Prince Street in Dutch). The mall itself is in a converted eighteenth-century pump house, surrounding a courtyard with one of the island's few wells. The resulting atmosphere is one that is impossible to recreate using modern building materials and techniques. I've seen many places attempt to artificially create an old look, but it never looks quite right. The Royal Dane Mall, like many of the buildings in Charlotte Amalie, is the real deal. Across the street from the Royal Dane Mall's Main Street entrance is the boyhood home of Camille Pissarro, which has been converted into an art gallery. You just can't build history like that in some modern strip mall.

Of course a restaurant would never develop legions of fans from all over the world just because of its decor. People go to restaurants to eat, and Gladys' Cafe serves up some of the best food on the island. They specialize in authentic Caribbean cuisine, like Curry Goat, Stewed Oxtails, and various incarnations of conch. Entrees come with sides like fried plantains, rice with peas, bread fruit, and a polenta-like cornmeal dish called fungi. For less adventurous eaters, they also have a nice selection of "American" food like burgers and sandwiches, and their American-style breakfast is very popular with early risers. Speaking of breakfast, Gladys' Cafe is also known for making a mean Bloody Mary.

On my recent visit to St. Thomas, I had to stop by to try Gladys' Curry Goat. This wasn't my first experience eating Curry Goat, but it was by far my favorite. It was not as spicy as Indian versions I've tried, but that allowed the more subtle flavors to come through. Goat meat has a more gamey taste than most Americans are used to, but the spicy curry sauce keeps it in check. Still, Curry Goat is not made with carefully trimmed lean meat. It is simply chopped into large chunks, bones and all. Some people might find that a bit unusual, but the resulting product is absolutely amazing.

I also highly recommend trying the Stewed Oxtails. Since it is not a curry dish, it is probably a better choice for people who do not like a lot of heat, and there is always the option of adding a few drops of one of Gladys' famous homemade hot sauces. They come in a base of tomato, mustard, oil, or mango, and all of them are very hot yet very delicious. I collect hot sauces from all over the world, and Gladys' are among the best I have ever tasted. Too many hot sauces concentrate too much on the heat, at the expense of flavor. Gladys' hot sauces strike that perfect balance. If you check out Gladys' Cafe's Facebook page, you will see loads of comments from other hot sauce aficionados who agree. I never leave Gladys' Cafe without a bottle, but if you can't make it to St. Thomas, or run out between visits, you can always order them from their online store.

Official Website: Gladys' Cafe

Facebook Page: Gladys' Cafe - St. Thomas

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