Jamaica's Lobster Dave — Chef and Entrepreneur
You're on another Caribbean cruise headed back to Ocho Rios, Jamaica. You've already climbed 300 feet to the top of Dunn's River Falls, driven the twisting roads through Fern Gully, gone river-tubing and experienced zip lining.
When you've been there, done that and want something different to do in Ocho Rios, I have a suggestion. It's not for the timid or culinary-challenged. In fact, it's the type of place that Anthony Bourdain would love to visit.
Located in an area known by the locals as Fisherman's Point, is my buddy, Lobster Dave and his "diner." I met Dave in 2004. A friend of mine learned that the best home-made, fresh lobster was served behind the scenes in a small local fishing enclave.
The directions to find this seafood haven were simple: exit the port, walk straight ahead to the shopping complex, Island Village. Go up the ramp and follow the signs to Margaritaville. Yes, one and the same. Once you get to Margaritaville, proceed through the restaurant and head towards the beach, keeping to your left. You'll see a partition on your left as you face the water, between Margaritaville and the unknown.
There are security guards who advise you that once you "cross over" the partition you are on your own. At the same time as the dire warning is delivered, you'll be approached by friendly locals from the "other side" with the goal of selling you necklaces or little carved trinkets. Tell them you are there to visit Lobster Dave. They'll most likely offer you a hand to aid in stepping over some jagged rocks in several inches of water as well as to avoid any other debris that was washed down the stream from the mountains to the ocean.
On my first visit, Dave had only a plank of wood placed across the shallow stream for customers to walk across to access his restaurant. That wasn't too bad considering at that time Dave's Diner didn't have any walls either due to the record-setting hurricane season which had just ended. Back then, Dave wasn't too busy; mostly local people would stop by for a lobster lunch with a small smattering of daring tourists who had heard about Dave.
Fast forward to 2009 and my yearly visit to Lobster Dave. While you still have to navigate behind the rickety-rusty partition, there is now a small bridge to walk over the stream, Dave's restaurant has walls, light bulbs and a huge refrigerator. Dave is still smoking the local "funny" cigarette, chopping vegetables and herbs, greeting customers and wearing his trademark plaid shirt. Immediately you notice the spicy aroma of onions, garlic and home-grown (literally...at his home) vegetables which comprise the garnish for the lobster.
You'll sit at a picnic table beneath a translucent fiberglass roof and painted lattice walls. Plates are paper, beer is Red Stripe and soft drinks and water are icy cold. The lobster tail, stuffed with Dave's vegetable mélange is cooked in tin foil over an open fire. Sometimes it's presented with a bit of breadfruit on the side. Be prepared to spend about $20 per person for each lobster meal, plus your beverage at about $2-3 each.
When I first started going to Lobster Dave's, it was only $12 for the lobster tail. Back then we ate the lobster right out of the tin foil, sat on newspaper on a block of cement and crossing that plank was right out of a pirate movie.
How did Dave get his nickname? Maybe I was exposed to the ambient air in the restaurant, but I distinctly remember asking my friend, on my first visit, "What was that man's name again?" "Dave," he replied. Quickly, I chimed in, "Why don't we call him 'Lobster Dave?' " Shortly thereafter, my friend published his article about finding Lobster Dave.
A cruise to Ocho Rios isn't complete without stopping by to order the succulent lobster painstakingly prepared by Lobster Dave himself. No matter what ship you are on, it's a wonderful change from the mass-produced frozen lobster tails on formal night.
Lunching at Lobster Dave's isn't for everyone. It's not wheelchair accessible nor for the unsure-footed person. Climbing around the fence can sometimes be a challenge during the rainy season as the water is deeper and the rocks are more concealed and very slippery. Also, that funny cigarette I mentioned earlier? If you are easily offended by what they are smoking, don't go.
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