My first visit to Griyo Lakay, a tiny Haitian restaurant near Franklin Park, reminded me of playing an adventure game: “You enter a storefront furnished with four booths. There are no signs, menus, customers, or staff in sight. At the back is a counter on which rests a hand bell.” Shout hello. “There is no answer.” Shake hand bell. “A door behind the counter opens and a friendly chef emerges; she recites the menu in Creole-accented English.”
The daily-varying menu always features a few fried entrées and a slow-cooked stew or two; these run about $8 for a small, $10 for medium, $11 for large.
Lakay’s namesake specialty, griyo, is cubes of pork shoulder marinated in sour orange juice, roasted and then pan-fried just prior to serving. It’s wonderful: moist, tender, with a crisp-fried exterior edged with fat, subtly spiced with citrus, herbs, and garlic. As with all meat entrées, it comes with slices of crisp-fried plantains; a small iceberg/tomato salad; and pikliz, a chow-chow of sliced carrots, onions, bell peppers, and chilies pickled in vinegar that provides a wonderfully tangy, fiery counterpoint to the rich pork. Portions are enormous: a medium griyo ($10) with a side of rice ($3), annatto-colored, dotted with lima beans and pigeon peas, and probably weighing a pound, could easily make two meals. Other options include fried turkey, slices of big legs on the bone. Each wheel of skillfully fried turkey is studded with tiny bones, easily spotted and removed. The bargain-priced fried chicken wings ($5) are big, meaty specimens. Equally hearty and satisfying is legumes ($4), another huge portion of stewed eggplant, collard greens, peppers, cabbage, onions, and chunks of tender beef shank. House-made patties ($1) are flaky, triangular fried turnovers with a bit of grease and chili heat in their minced-beef fillings.
Beverage options include American sodas ($1), fresh fruit drinks ($2) of passion fruit, lemon, and cherry, and the fantastic manioc ($2.50), a cassava-based frappe with a nutty flavor like an almond cookie and alleged muscle-building properties. (I can imagine gaining bulk, if not tone, from a few of these.) A little patience is needed with the lone chef/server’s limited English (a bit of French helps) and the wait for your meal (meat plates are cooked to order) is appropriate. But for those willing to puzzle out its mysteries, Griyo Lakay offers a fine, generous sample of lovingly prepared Haitian cuisine in a very attractively priced package.
Griyo Lakay, located at 604 Blue Hill Avenue, in Dorchester, is open daily, 7 am–11 pm. Call 617.524.5800.