Although Anguilla is small in size and population, there is no shortage of authentic island fare. // © 2016 Devin Galaudet
Feature image (above): Sandy Island’s restaurant features both comforting classics and fine-dining options. // © 2016 Devin Galaudet
I was on a ferry bound for Anguilla, a tiny Caribbean island that, until the early 1980s, was without electricity. I hate to admit it, but I was worried about what I would be missing — I thought an island so small would surely not have enough of what I might want. However, I was wrong — especially when it came to food.
It’s true that Anguilla comes from a humble past. The island is little more than 35 square miles in total and is home to roughly 15,000 people. However, Anguilla has managed to maintain a peaceful, unexplored vibe while also developing into a travel-friendly destination with just about everything a visitor could want, including food travel. I found out that in Anguilla, good things do come in small packages.
Shortly after docking, my Anguillan foodie adventure began with some of area’s culinary mainstays, such as Blanchard’s, Straw Hat Restaurant and Smokey’s at the Cove. All the spots I tried were delicious but, as I discovered, only one offered an adventure.
Sandy Island, a small, off-island cay, is the Gilligan’s Island of Anguilla, consisting of little more than a few, scattered lazy palm trees and a basic, outdoor restaurant (and a modest bathroom). However, don’t let Sandy Island’s sparseness fool you — it has all the ambience and food an Anguillan adventure needs.
Sandy Island’s restaurant was almost an afterthought. I was on a morning boat tour of Anguilla with a “stop for lunch.” It wasn’t until after our group finished up numerous snapshots of the gorgeous Anguillan coast that the boat meandered to the smallest, most idyllic island I had ever seen. Surrounded by rolling Caribbean blue, I realized this was the “stop for lunch.”
Sandy Island’s restaurant (as it is simply known) is somewhere between Caribbean beachside comfort food and fine dining, although the decor is vacation-casual, which brings as much of the island attitude into the open-air restaurant as possible. The food is excellent; visitors should expect lots of seafood, ribs and spicy side dishes on the menu. I recommend the drunken shrimp, pan-seared grouper and mahi mahi. A truly local culinary experience should also include Ting, perhaps Anguilla’s most popular soda, to create a memorable island experience.
Getting to the destination is half the fun on one of the frequent shuttles ($10 per person from the Sandy Ground Beach pier). Sandy Island is open with regular food service from November through August, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Private events, weddings and nighttime visits are also available through advance reservations only.
A walk around Sandy Island may take only 15 minutes, but the location subtly invites a sumptuous slowness. Visitors can sunbathe, snorkel, explore the island’s nooks or simply watch small waves land against its pristine shore. And to think — such serenity almost ended more than 20 years ago.
After Hurricane Luis completely washed Sandy Island away in 1994, Hurricane Lenny brought it back in 1999. Sandy Island’s restaurant returned in 2007 as a “labor of love.”
I found the small paradise to be a combination of Anguilla’s humble beginning and its fortitude for the future.