At 1191 Springfield Ave. in Irvington, N.J., a tiny yellow awning announces your arrival at Cynthia’s Caribbean Restaurant and Bakery. Beneath the yellow awning and behind the glass storefront, lights declare the treats within-colored sugar cakes, preserved mangoes and many more Caribbean specialties.
On the wall above the counter is a picture of Miss Universe 1998, Wendy Fitzwilliam, a Trinidadian. Inside the glass counter are rum cakes wrapped in green and red bows and garnished with red cherries, homemade breads and turnovers. The sign above the counter reads: “Roti, Ackee and Saltfish, Callaloo, Smoke Herring, Jerk Chicken, Phoulourie and Doubles.”
“A large chicken, two large oxtails, and peas and rice. Tell her to put some cabbage on there. Do you have any plantains?” asks Borbia “Barbie” Perry, formerly of Washington, D.C., as she leans over the glass countertop. She walked three blocks in the snow and freezing weather with her grandson to get some of Cynthia’s food, which she describes as “fresh.”
“I don’t like food that is too greasy,” she says. “Nothing fatty. Only fresh food, that’s why I come here.”
A couple from New York trudge in behind her and order jerk chicken at the counter. It is their first time at Cynthia’s. There is a steady stream of traffic into the restaurant, according to Tony Hutchinson, co-owner and brother of the shop’s founder, Cynthia Carter.
One of the first Caribbean restaurants in the area, Cynthia’s is a place for many Caribbean immigrants to stay in touch with their cultural roots. “Instead of just offering food, another aspect of the culture is music,” said Hutchinson. “This Caribbean establishment with Trinidadian roots is an outreach for promoting up-and-coming artists.” Cynthia’s also provides the advertising necessary to promote many newly developing organizations and aspiring artists. Throughout the restaurant there are flyers advertising the latest sounds in calypso, soca, reggae and dancehall.
Every year Culture, Consciousness and Benevolence International (CCB), a promotional company that grew out of Cynthia’s, awards thousands of dollars in scholarships to high school students who have shown their merit, Hutchinson says. Since its beginnings, CCB, in conjunction with Cynthia’s, has given away $70,000. This year the sum amounted to $20,000, according to Hutchinson.
Cynthia’s is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. But the doorway at Cynthia’s never seems to be closed. One last patron is always squeezing under the half-closed gates long after closing. Cynthia’s has re-created a taste of the islands that has many of us coming back for more.
Lydia Baker is a journalism and media studies major at Rutgers-Newark, where she is a member of the Honors College.