For the most part, a fine restaurant on the island is an oxymoron. We have a few places that serve up exceptional meals that one would find in Europe or the U.S., but, for the most part the meals served on the island in the majority of the restaurants (and there are very few here) are the standard Honduran dish which has, at minimum, two starches, a salad (most of the time cole slaw), plantains and chicken or fish. The Islanders tend to overcook their fish and chicken so it is really special when one finds a place that serves a good chicken dish done to perfection.
I have spoken in the past about Manati and Clearwater Paradise as being exceptional restaurants. The price, depending upon what you want for an entrée goes from Lps. 150 to Lps. 400 (approximately $8 to 21.00) per person. On the high end (at Clearwater Paradise) one gets a deluxe 7-course meal with your choice of entrée and is an exceptionally high-quality meal. In the “average” price range one can get, depending upon the restaurant, chicken, fish or beef fixed in a variety of ways. The normal Honduran fare is fried chicken. The best fried chicken we have found is at Bo’s Island House where his wife, Martha and/or her Mother, Maria, understand that overcooking is not necessary! They serve up a wonderful chicken or fish with salad, rice and plantains for a minimal cost. Manati serves chicken cordon blu, schnitzel, garlic fish, stuffed chicken (a wonderful specialty), German sausages and, on occasion, a beautiful filet which is cooked to perfection. The prices at both places are reasonable.
When we hear of a new restaurant we are anxious to try it but also wait to hear what other people‘s experiences are. Almost two years ago an islander, Daniel Ebanks, opened a restaurant, Shade Tree, out of his mother’s house near Mangrove Bight. Daniel had worked for a short time on Clark Cay as their cook, at one of the other dive resorts, did private cooking in people’s homes for parties and, in general, is an exceptional cook. I have tried Daniel’s dishes at Clark Cay and always encouraged him to continue with his craft stating that maybe some day he could open a restaurant. We had heard some good things about his place and decided we would like, one day, to go there.
We recently were invited to celebrate Ginger’s birthday with free drinks at their resort (Clearwater Paradise) and a meal at Daniel’s. George generally holds a birthday party for Ginger cooking wonderful meals at no cost and offering free drinks for the celebration. This year, however, George has been working for 3 weeks on his dive boat which suddenly started falling apart (more on that in another blog). He had to re-fiberglass the entire bottom of the boat and will also have to do the whole inside. After 3 weeks of working with fiberglass, he really did not have the time to whip together a meal or plan a proper party and decided that they would try out Daniel’s restaurant.
We had not made the trek to Daniel’s restaurant because of the distance to go to get to Mangrove Bight. One must phone ahead a day or two in advance so he knows what to prepare. He does not have a set menu, from what I understand, and since he never knows when people will show up, he prefers them to call ahead. This is fine with us except that sometimes one will call ahead and then on the appointed date weather will be inclement and passage to the other side impossible. We had heard from a couple of people that Daniel’s food was of excellent quality and his specialty, fruit smoothies, were worth the visit. No alcohol is served at Daniel’s restaurant so he came up with wonderful smoothies to satisfy one’s thirst.
Daniel’s place is located a little ways up from Mangrove Bight and for those of strong constitution, it is quite a hike to get there. We later discovered that one could hire a taxi to take you to Shade Tree! Anyway, our small party got to the Hilti dock in Mangrove Bight, strolled UP the steep ramp to the highway, turned right and then proceeded up some steep stairs on the left side of the road to the crest of a hill. We trekked further on, walked down a small, steep ramp, continued on a road, down another hill and finally came to the road leading to Daniel’s Mother’s house, which was more walking downhill. It was hot with hardly a breeze and we were tired and thirsty. Daniel serves his guests outside on tables under beautiful palms and a huge Ceiba tree. The yard is beautifully taken care of and makes a pleasant place where one can enjoy the view and their meal.
Unfortunately, Belco was not supplying electricity at that hour and, therefore, we could not sample Daniel’s smoothies. He did offer us ice tea, fruit punch or the local hog plum juice. We found a table and were served our drinks. Our reservation was for 2:00 p.m. and we noticed that on this particular day there were several people gathered at various tables for what we were to learn would be a buffet meal. About 15 people were present while we were there for the buffet.
Buffet meals can be tricky and, normally, they are reasonably priced considering that the entré will be something that can be cooked in large batches and kept reasonably warm. We were told that there was conch and small dumplings, chicken with barbeque sauce, a lettuce salad with vegetables, potato salad and rice. We had all expected an individually-made meal and were a little disappointed but agreeable with the offering. We were not, however, in agreement with the stiff price for this buffet. He was charging Lps. 320.00 ($17.00) which we all felt was quite steep considering what was being offered. But, we were there and we were hungry.
The ambience of Shade Tree was lovely, the fact that they had their pet dog caged up near the dining tables barking the whole time detracted from the peacefulness of the meal. Daniel was working very hard and it was quite a feat to prepare this whole meal for a small crowd. Maybe this is why we did not get served until 3:30 p.m.. However, his serving help was inexperienced. I think the girl must have been in training as she was slow and did not seem to comprehend just what she was to do. She could only carry one plate at a time and brought individual dishes to us without a knife or fork. I finally got up and went over to get the utensils I saw laying on a table wrapped in a single, thin, paper napkin. To my surprise all that we got was a flimsy plastic fork wrapped in a thin paper napkin; no knife at all nor any extra napkins. We were never approached and asked if we wanted another drink until the meal was almost over. The chicken was cooked to perfection and the conch was interesting fare. The lettuce salad had a little more in it than most served on the island, the potato salad was average and what can one say about rice? No bread or rolls were offered. All in all, it certainly was not a meal that one would pay $17 for on the island; even on the Coast, this price was a little out of reason.
George asked Daniel if he had any champagne glasses as it was Ginger’s birthday (he had told Daniel this before when arranging the party and that he was bringing champagne). Daniel was able to produce 2 glasses; there were 6 of us. The rest of the group drank the refreshments out of plastic cups. The meal, fortunately, was served on a ceramic plate and we were puzzled as to why he would not offer good metal utensils, especially a knife, with the meal.
Desert was announced and there was the typical flan, a fruit salad, a fruit cocktail cake and something Daniel christened a Guanaja Mud Cake which was simply a boxed chocolate cake with bits of peanut butter in it. To our surprise, with the desert we received a metal fork.
We finished our meal and were paying our individual bills. George was talking to people and so did not pay Daniel directly. There was a girl sitting at the gate when we came in who, evidentially, was to collect money from individual’s when they walked in for the buffet. George approached her to pay the Lps. 640.00 for himself and Ginger and when he asked how much the meal was she said Lps. 700.00! George turned and got Daniel and explained that the girl was asking Lps. 60 more than she should have. Daniel apologized and said the girl must be trying to take money for herself. George paid Daniel and noticed that Daniel did not even bother to go to the girl and reprimand her.
So, all in all, I cannot recommend that one go to Daniel’s for a meal unless he is making an individual meal for each person. The food was good, but not worth Lps. 320.00 per person. The fact that he did not use proper utensils nor even have cloth napkins or any extra napkins for people nor glass glasses certainly did not give the restaurant a feel of a “professional” establishment. The distraction of a constantly barking dog did nothing to relax anyone and having to get one’s own utensil because the waitress did not seem to know what was required of her was a shame. To top it off, the girl at the gate trying to rip the customers off did not sit well with our group and we wondered if we were the only ones being charged Lps. 320.00 as, for the most part, islanders will not pay that kind of money for what was offered, which was nothing more than normal island fare. We, as customers should have been advised when we called ahead, that a taxi could bring us to the restaurant rather than making the long, difficult walk in the heat, but that was not done. Even when leaving, some of our party took a taxi out but had to wait 20 minutes for the driver to talk to people and eat his meal!
All in all it was an average island establishment with minimal service and an overpriced meal. Quite possibly Daniel’s individual meals may be better, but we will not go back to find out.