The St George Parish Grill and Staten Island Museum.
When I decided to visit all five boroughs of New York City on my recent trip, I didn’t have much of a plan for Staten Island. I knew I’d be staying in Brooklyn and making regular trips to Manhattan. The Bronx had the zoo and the Botanic Gardens – though I didn’t know about the zoo’s fabulous gorilla exhibit until I got there – and I knew that between the museums in Astoria, the Hindu temple in Flushing and the Latin American and Indian food in Jackson Heights, I would figure something out for Queens.
For Staten Island my plan was something like this – take the free ferry to the island and check out the Statue of Liberty as I go past, then get off the ferry at the other end and see what I could do in an hour, before getting the return ferry back to Manhattan. My schedule was getting very tight by this point – it was my last day in New York City and I still hadn’t been to Queens. Nonetheless, I ended up staying two hours, visiting the charming Staten Island Museum and having a rather fabulous lunch at the St George Parish Grill.
The Staten Island Ferry is one of those things that is billed as a great travel secret – it’s a free service and you get close enough to get a good look at the Statue of Liberty without forking out lots of money and wasting lots of time actually visiting the island. In reality, it’s not much of a secret since everyone knows about it and it’s mentioned in pretty much every guide book. One of these days I actually do want to do the full Statue of Liberty experience – seeing it is all very well, but I bet the immigrant story at Ellis Island is pretty interesting.
I imagine most tourists simply disembark the ferry at Staten Island and get straight back on the next one, without looking around Staten Island. And I can now definitively say that they are missing out. Instead, they should walk two blocks to the St George Parish Grill and get themselves some Cajun food. I know Cajun food on Staten Island might sound weird but New York is a melting pot and there’s no reason for Staten Island to be any different.
St George Parish Grill – Cajun restaurant in Staten Island
I would have missed this place, were it not for the fact that I had a quarter hour to spare before free entry kicked in at the Staten Island Museum and it happened to be lunch time. It’s an unassuming shop front and when I wandered over to look at the menu I was expecting a typical diner or sandwich shop. Apparently it used to be an antique shop and before that a candy store.
The menu was handwritten and photocopied on fluorescent-green paper. You can check out a sample menu online but it is different to the one I had – I guess the availability of things like soft shell crab change with the seasons. My menu included soups such as crawfish and andouille gumbo, appetisers such as alligator meatballs or conch fritters, and a full range of po-boys from sliced steak to popcorn shrimp.
I bought a lunch special, which gave me soup with my main course. The soup was fresh tomato, basil and roast garlic and I could tell from the perfect balance of flavours that it was homemade. It was served chilled like gazpacho, which was perfect as it was a stiflingly humid New York day.
For my main choice I nearly ordered the chicken fried alligator with fried okra and sweet potato balls or the grilled pork loin and pineapple. I decided not to get the gator mainly because I was told it would taste like chicken. Not only am I bored with the concept of everything tasting like chicken, but I’m also not that fond of fried chicken. Heresy, I know, but it just tastes greasy to me. And the pork sounded good but not distinctive enough.
Instead, I ordered the soft shell crabs on the recommendation of chef Dennis Crotty, who also happened to be the owner and my server. I had them sauté veronique – a creamy sauce with a hint of alcohol and red grapes that complemented the slight saltiness of the crab meat and shells. It came on a plate with rice and vegetables and made an extremely satisfying meal.
I’m afraid I made rather a pig of myself though because I also ordered an appetiser of fried okra with mustard dressing. I really love okra, so even though I was on my own I couldn’t resist. They were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside with a great flavour, just what I hoped they would be. There was already a bit of tang to the okra but the mustard sauce made it something special. I didn’t manage to finish them but I made a pretty good effort.
The lunch specials vary in price from $7.50 upwards, which includes the soup. The crabs and soup combo was $12 and worth every cent, plus the fried okra was another $4. Considering the amount of food I ate, and its quality, it was very cheap!
Since I was the only one in the restaurant until just before I left, I chatted a bit with Dennis. It turns out he used to work at a well-known restaurant called Cajun in Manhattan. He opened up in St George, Staten Island because he lives locally and his commute is now just a four-block walk. (Though he misses the adventurous nature of Manhattan restaurant goers). He opened last September and he’s built links with the art community in Staten Island, displaying the work of local artists and playing local music. When I was having lunch, he was playing music by Queen Tipsy, a Staten Island-based soul and blues singer.
St George Parish Grill
Cajun restaurant on Staten Island
100 Stuyvesant Place
Staten Island, New York
Tel: (718) 556 5355
Staten Island Museum
Stuffed to the gills, I eventually made it to the Staten Island Museum. Ordinarily admission is $2 for adults or $1 for students and seniors while children under 12 are free. But admission is free for everyone from 2pm to 4pm on Tuesdays, which is when I visited.
It was a cute little museum. The first room had a stunning collection of stuffed birds, all of which were native to Staten Island, and curiosities such as a four-legged chicken in a jar. Behind a curtain you could visit a room filled with rocks that glowed with vivid colours when you turned the UV lighting on. Another room was devoted to Staten Island’s maritime history and upstairs there were paintings by local artists. Unfortunately I found out halfway through the first room that the museum has an annoying no-photography policy. (Why is it that you can take photos at the world’s top museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum but not the little ones?).
I wouldn’t make a trip to Staten Island especially to go to this museum but if you are taking the ferry anyway, it’s worth getting off the other end and popping in. It doesn’t cost much and you’ll be done in half an hour. It’s also worth walking around a bit and checking out buildings like the Staten Island Borough Hall and the court house. And definitely have lunch at St George Parish Grill!
For more photos from Staten Island, follow the link to the Flickr set. All photos are copyright to Caitlin Fitzsimmons and Roaming Tales.