Paradise is only a 25 minute drive from Lodi.
Or at least Paradise Point Marina is.
This little scenic bastion in the Delta is home to the Breadfruit Tree, the area's best, albeit only, Caribbean restaurant.
Walk through the front doors and you are immediately transported to the island of Canouan, an island in St. Vincent, where chef/owner Louis Bynoe was raised. A colorful mural on all four walls, painted by Stockton artist James Bale, is based on a photo that was taken outside of his father's home. From any point in the restaurant, you can see blue-green waters, sailboats, flowers, butterflies and the breadfruit tree, a large, green, starchy fruit that can be boiled, charbroiled or fried.
"It's an adventure to come here," said co-owner Valerie Gnassounou-Bynoe, who is Louis's wife. "It's the closest vacation you can get."
Grab a seat at a wooden table and sink into one of the bamboo chairs topped with maroon cushions, as Jamaican rhythms swell in the background. There are no menus here. Instead, Gnassounou-Bynoe explains the day's selection as sketched onto a big board, which she brings to the table.
The explanation is key, as many customers are new to Caribbean food and the menu changes frequently.
"We provide a rich, varied taste of the Caribbean and it's diversified. We provide a lot of dishes from the different islands," smiled Gnassounou-Bynoe. "You won't get bored."
For example, their peleau rice dishes, which come from Trinidad and St. Vincent, are a regular staple, made with chicken, seafood (shrimp, crab, calamari and scallops), beef or vegetarian. Their beef patties, a variation on the empanada and my favorite dish here, comes from Jamaica. And their roti, a flatbread filled with curried potatoes, rice and peas, originates from Trinidad and Tobago.
These are Bynoe's recipes, which he has been using for the last 15 years that the restaurant has been open.
So what can you expect from Caribbean food?
"The Caribbean is a mix of Spanish, East Indian, French, Dutch, African. It's a blend of them all," said Louis Bynoe.
The cuisine reflects this blend. Dishes are rich in spices (like thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, all-spice and peppercorn), but don't confuse that with spiciness. Apart from their traditional jerk chicken, spicy pork and pepper shrimp, the majority of their dishes are not hot. Their menu also makes use of ingredients like rice, potatoes, couscous, curry and purple yams.
Everything is made from scratch here. Nothing comes from a can. And every meal is cooked to order. Food might take a little longer, notes Gnassounou-Bynoe, but customers enjoy hot, fresh food every time.
And would you expect anything less in paradise?
But food isn't the only attraction here. Starting next month, the restaurant will host live music (steel drum music and jazz) on Saturday nights to add to the island vibe. The Bynoes also plan to host a jazz festival in July and a reggae festival on Aug. 26 at Paradise Point Marina. Pair that with a cold Red Stripe beer, Van Ruiten wine, sangria or their rum punch, made with a wine-based rum (they only have a beer and wine license) and you have the makings of a mini-vacation.
But back to the food. We stopped in for lunch one afternoon and started with the sautéed mushrooms and onions with garlic bread ($6.95), which were presented with two festive cocktail umbrellas. The whole mushrooms were flavored with paprika and served with buttery garlic bread strips. It prepped my palate for Anita's ribs ($12.45), rib pieces bathed in a balanced sweet and savory sauce with red peppers, raisins, red onions, orange and parsley confetti. It was messy, for sure, but a delicious medley of flavors. I washed it down with swonk ($1.75), a Caribbean sweet iced tea that had ginger and spice notes, served in a frosty mug.
My friend ordered the chicken peleau ($9.95), a spiced rice dish with chicken pieces, green onions, carrots, red onions and bell peppers. It was flavorful and rich, accented by the different fresh vegetables which were added.
Their homemade pineapple apricot chutney and hot pepper sauce were also nice accompaniments to both dishes.
The final touch was the bread pudding ($3.95), Louis's grandmother's recipe, which was served warm with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. It was a revelation - a reverie of chocolate and spice. Nutmeg, yes, but other spices I couldn't quite pinpoint.
The Bynoes' lips were sealed on the recipe, but I could understand that. It was a sweet secret worth keeping.
Restaurant at a glance
What: Breadfruit Tree
Where: Paradise Point Marina, 8095 Rio Blanco Road, Stockton
House specialties: Peleau, curry
Drinks menu: Swonk, Jamaican sodas, beer, wine, rum punch
Price range: Entrées ($9.50-$12.95),
Hours of operation: 12-2 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. 12-3 p.m., 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday. 1-9:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed November through January.