Dining review: Norma G's brings Caribbean fare to a new audience
The goat curries and jerk chicken prepared by his mother inspired Lester Gouvia to name his food truck after her. Now he’s gone a step further, with a restaurant in her name in a low-slung wood and glass building that emerged in August on East Jefferson a couple of blocks east of Chalmers Avenue.
Norma G’s is the first new spot in the rebounding area, and for Gouvia, the culmination of his desire to introduce Caribbean fare to a new audience.
The casual and comfortable setting reflects the personality of the food truck with its hot pink, lime green and turquoise accents. The fare is based on house seasonings and from-scratch preparation of fresh ingredients. Service is friendly and accommodating.
Because Caribbean fare is unfamiliar to many diners, a question about a particular dish will bring the response, “Would you like to try a taste before you order?’'
Appetizers include grilled chicken wings marinated in jerk seasoning, and they have a spicy, but not overly spicy, kick that registers slowly. The chicken also comes in the form of a slider with chipotle mayonnaise.
Oxtail sliders are another appetizer sturdy enough to be a main dish. That’s a dish I wish I’d sampled first. I found the oxtails a bit too chewy and heavy.
Less familiar items include “Doubles,” sauteed seasoned chickpeas between fried dough patties served with tamarind sauce, said to be street food, Trinidad style, and salted cod fish balls blended with potatoes and vegetables.
Side dishes include fried plantains, the intriguingly sweet strips of banana that also come with some main dishes and are a soothing counterpart to the spices. Vegans will find four entrees in the lineup: a blend of baked jasmine rice with squash, pigeon peas and peppers similar to rice pilaf, as well as polenta with house-made callaloo (spinach and okra).
One strictly local touch – Wally’s Frozen Custard, made in St Clair Shores - is a component of all three desserts on the menu, typified by Mango Tango, vanilla frozen custard sparked with mango chutney.
Backing up the proprietor are sous chef Gabriel Vincent McNeil and a staff of six.
Norma G’s seats 91 inside and another 22 outdoors in a garden setting. And by the way, Gouvia didn’t forget his father. “Al’s Rum Punch” honors his dad, and the blend of rum, bitters, lime juice and grated nutmeg is one of the most popular drinks in the early going.
It's a welcome addition to the local dining scene.
14628 East Jefferson, Detroit
Rating: ★★ 1/2
Hours: 4:30-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4:30-11 p.m. Thurs-Sat. Closed Sun.-Mon.
Prices: Appetizers $5-$9, sandwiches $11-$14
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar, with an emphasis on rum
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Attached lot.
Wheelchair access: No barriers
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding