A proper Trinidadian roti wrap is one of the world’s great street foods: a split pea flatbread full of soft-cooked potato curry and, perhaps, chunks of goat meat or chicken and a dash of hot pepper sauce — everything folded into a fat, hand-held bundle that will keep even the heartiest appetite satisfied for the better part of the day.
It’s a dish you would have had a hard time tracking down in the Bay Area up until a little over a month ago, when CocoBreeze, a new Trinidadian restaurant in Oakland, opened its doors, offering a whole lineup of traditional dishes from its owner’s native Trinidad and Tobago: the savory split-pea fritters known as pholourie; chicken or goat served over pelau, the classic Trinidadian rice dish; and yes, roti with a choice of several different fillings.
CocoBreeze marks something of a comeback for its chef, Annabelle Goodridge — aka Chef Ann — who ran a Trinidadian restaurant called LaBelle’s in Berkeley, on Adeline Street, during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Mostly, though, Goodridge has done catering for most of her life, going back to the early ‘70s when, as a 12-year-old girl, she would help out with her mother’s catering business in Trinidad and Tobago. Her most recent company, Makin Style Catering, catered events for big clients like Kaiser, Genentech, and UC Berkeley.
The new restaurant is a collaboration between Goodridge and her daughter, Merissa Lyons, who runs a vegan bakery and juice bar called Enchanted Eats out of the same space in East Oakland. The key to Trinidadian cooking, Goodridge says, is its use of fresh herbs. She cites the huge amount of green onions, parsley, and onions that she blends into a marinade, slathering over her Trinidadian version of jerk chicken, which she describes as being fresher and more palatable — not as intensely spicy — as the versions served at other Caribbean restaurants. Her roti wraps, meanwhile, come with smoky, peppery anchar, the traditional green mango condiment, on the side.
Part of the excitement around CocoBreeze’s arrival stems from the fact that the Bay Area has few options for Trinidadian food. Daniel’s Caribbean Kitchen, a Berkeley-based food cart that was a staple at the Ashley Flea Market for decades, had long been the local standard bearer for the cuisine. The cart’s uncommonly delicious roti reemerged last year at the Berkeley farmers market, as its proprietors announced plans for an Oakland restaurant, but Daniel’s appears to have remained closed throughout the shelter in place order and has not responded to Eater SF’s inquiries about the future of the business. Meanwhile, Afro-Caribbean restaurants like Miss Ollie’s, in Oakland, might offer a couple of Trinidadian dishes at any given time. For now, to have a full-on experience of the cuisine, CocoBreeze appears to be the only game in town.
It’s no wonder, then, that CocoBreeze was swamped on its opening day in late July, according to Goodridge — “We had lines and lines and lines,” she says, as customers drove out from as far as Fresno, Sacramento, and San Jose — some of whom were regulars at LaBelle’s back in its day.
In addition to her full Trinidadian food menu, Goodridge also makes all of the restaurant’s traditional Trinidadian beverages in-house, including a house-brewed ginger beer she says is especially popular. She also makes her sorrel (the hibiscus flower drink) and mauby (which she describes as having more of an anise flavor) in-house.
On the bakery side, Lyons mostly focuses on offerings that are meant to have health benefits — vegan cakes that incorporate various super fruits and juices, like her popular “Calm-Ade,” that include lots of herbal ingredients like lavender, chamomile, and red clover.
Lyons says the best part of opening has been seeing new customers discover CocoBreeze, perhaps getting reacquainted with beloved Trinidadian dishes after a long separation (“people from Trinidad who have been stuck out here for 20 years — who haven’t had roti for 20 years,” she says). “It tastes like home” has been a common refrain.
On how her mother’s food has been received, now that the restaurant is finally open, Lyons simply says, “She’s had many ‘air hugs’ from people.”
CocoBreeze is open at 2370 High Street in Oakland. It’s open for takeout and outdoor dining Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.