“Tom had to go.”

“Why?  He was just here and now he is gone?”

“Our daughter-in-law just went into labor.”

A smile and fill of excitement came over me as I looked at my host, Pearlene Coleman.  Her already amiable face was beaming.

“Wait.  We were just taking about her expecting a baby while we were in the kitchen working on lunch.  As soon as we come out here to eat, it happens?”

Pearlene smiled even more brightly.

“We yes.  Now we are in the wait-and-see.  He will call soon.  Have some more callaloo.”

I had spent the morning working with Pearlene in her restaurant’s kitchen.  She had me chop onions and peppers for her stews and veggies, and fry up trays of fresh plantains.  All the while we chatted about her recipes, her family, Toledo, and what would become the early (not premature) arrival of the newest member of the Coleman family.

I wanted to delve deeper into local Belizean food and Pearlene, along with her husband Tom, graciously allowed me not only to come and eat, but to see behind-the-scenes into what makes a restaurant work in southern Belize.

After a morning working with the Coleman’s, and their mutually amiable natures, I was just as excited at the baby news as I would be for my own family.

Coleman’s Cafe is in Big Falls, Toledo Belize.

Here are some fast facts about the Cafe:

  • Tom and Pearlene Coleman opened the restaurant 11 years ago. They have three sons and of course, one grandchild on the way.  They are part of the East Indian Community in Belize whose families are descendents of the Indian’s who came to Belize to work sugar and agricultural plantations.
  • Tom and Pearlene moved to Big Falls initially so that Tom could work in the Rice Mill. The same mill is up the hill from the cafe.  They decided to follow their passion and use Pearlene’s local recipes that are peppered with Indian spice influences, to open their own restaurant.
  • Each year, the cafe expands and now hosts a large outdoor covered seating area. The current large kitchen used to be the indoor restaurant.  “It was too hot and we have such a nice outdoor spot so we moved it outside. ” said Pearlene.  I can attest to this “nice spot” description: the cafe sits in a shaded area on a hillside that catches the breeze.
  • Coleman’s  open air dining room that allows for large parties and group tours.  It is IDEAL for groups, as you come in from any activity in Toledo  ie: caving, hiking, spelunking, absolutely starving – I promise! Food is served buffet style in the day.  The buffet is ready to go and according to Tom, “People don’t want to wait when they are so hungry for the time it takes to order and make food. This way, its all ready and they can get what they want.”
  • Tour groups and locals stop for lunch.  A set price of $15 BZd ($7.50 US) gets you the buffet: a mixture of vegetarian and carnivore specialties.
  • The buffet includes three to four kinds of meat: stew chicken, pork, beef and barbeque on most days, rice in all its best Belizean forms; veggie rice made with curry, rice-and-beans, and white rice with stew beans, the the crown jewels of the menu; sauteed callaloo and curried hearts of palm. I heard no less than four customers call out, “What is the this delicious green?” while they were eating the callaloo.  It is a member of the amaranth family, similar to spinach.  Pearlene sauteed it in coconut oil with a dash of curry and onion- outstanding!
  • The hears of palm are treated the same way and if the only way you have ever had hearts of palm before is out of a can, book your ticket to Toledo and get yourself on a bus to Coleman’s.  Three words: crunchy-savory-fun.
  • The “CAUTION BEST COOK IN THE WORLD” sign was made by Pearlene’s apprentice who works with her each week.  The young girl is learning the ins-and-outs of cooking home-style Belizean food.  Get to Coleman’s yourself to heed its warning.

Coleman’s has a facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/colemanscafe.

Kristin Fuhrmann Simmons