Tex-Mex, Margaritas and Sizzling Fajitas in The Gap
The St. Lawrence Gap is quiet in the daytime. Last night’s revellers are either still in bed or relaxing pool-side or beach-side, which means Café Sol’s Thursday lunch service is a lot more peaceful than the night before.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
At the weekly Wednesday night party, the restaurant has live music, half-price appetisers from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and two-for-one margaritas all night. Add ten margarita flavours, including mango, passion fruit and classic lime to choose from, and it’s usually a late –
and fun – night.
Owner Mark Cothran owes a lot of his success to his prime real estate. Café Sol is located at the entrance of “The Gap”, the strip of nightclubs, bars and restaurants on the South Coast of the island. Ask anyone where you go out at night in Barbados and they’ll tell you “The Gap”. The area recently saw a decline but is now experiencing a renaissance, says Cothran. “There are lots of new restaurants and millions of dollars in new and renovated properties, especially along St. Lawrence Bay”, he says, adding that he doesn’t mind the competition. “The more great businesses in The Gap, the better for everyone.”
But not every business in the area boasts a patio seat with a sunny, ocean view like Café Sol. Nor do they offer refreshing shrimp ceviche salads marinated in pungent lime leche de tigre and served in a taco bowl – not to mention cheesy quesadillas, deep-fried jalapeño fish cakes, crispy chicken taquitos, tacos with gluten-free corn tortillas, nachos, burritos, burgers, healthy salads and a kids’ menu. The bottles of local Cockspur and Mount Gay rum (try the XO and Black Barrel) suspended from the ceiling and mustard-spiked papaya hot sauce on each table aren’t just for decoration – they pack a punch. Throw in a fun, family-friendly atmosphere, a loyal clientele of locals and tourists, generous portions and you’ve got yourself a hit. Cothran explains the story of his success.
How did you end up opening Café Sol in Barbados?
I’m originally from Los Angeles, California and I moved here in 1991 to work in a small hotel on the East Coast. I never thought I’d stay here this long but I met my wife Jacinta here (she’s from Dublin, Ireland and was an air hostess for Aer Lingus) and we opened Café Sol in 1994. I missed this type of cuisine from California. It was our first business together and we really opened on a shoestring budget. I remember telling my wife that we had no money in the bank, so this better work. The best night I can remember at the restaurant was opening night. I was cooking in the kitchen with a stove so small that a large commercial pot covered all four burners. It was all we could afford.
What are the most popular dishes on your Tex-Mex and Gringo menus?
That’s easy. The flat-iron fajita sizzlers. They come with steak, chicken, vegetables or shrimp. The steaming sounds and smells wafting through the restaurant sell the dish. Funnily enough, I like the Cheeseburger in Paradise best. It’s not even Mexican. The cobb salad with grilled mahi, or dorado dolphin, as Bajans call it, is one of my favourites as well.
Your staff is very friendly and welcoming. How did you build such a great team?
I’ve always tried to explain to staff that customer service is everything. They should make people feel more like a friend than a customer. My hallmark saying is ‘Try and make a connection with your guest’.
What’s the secret of your ceviche?
My Head Chef Jemma O’Neal has been with me for eighteen years. She marinates kingfish or mahi in lime juice for six hours and adds a tangy citrus edge with fresh orange.
Is Tex-Mex healthy?
Tex-Mex doesn’t have a reputation for being healthy, but our lunch menu has more than ten salads on it including a creamy shredded chicken salad with romaine, tomatoes and red onions, a grilled Mediterranean veggie salad with feta and dill mayo and a southwestern salad with black beans, corn, cilantro and an avocado ranch dressing.
Do you prefer your Fiesta Fridays or Live Music Wednesdays?
I love live music and a sunset, so Wednesdays. But we always have a two-for-one daily drink special. A favourite is two-for-one on any and all local rums on Fridays. And we have two happy hours a day: the early happy hour, geared towards locals after work and visitors wanting a sunset drink or two before dinner, and the late one, meant to generate a drinking crowd.
Will you stay at Café Sol forever?
I hope so. Maybe my daughters will take an interest in food and beverage as they head into university. I have twin seventeen-year-old girls and they enjoy waiting tables here.
St. Lawrence Gap
Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar