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Ordering a plate of chicken curry with roti at Lovey's Roti in Sunrise (8336 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise; call 954-741-9212) isn't a one-step process. As in many of the dozens of West Indian-style eateries scattered throughout West Broward, questions abound: "Roti or rice?" Or "Wrapped or on the side?" Or, quite simply, "Peppa?"
It's important that, no matter how much you fudge your answers, you get that last one right. "Peppa" refers to an ultraspicy purée of Scotch bonnet peppers that is omnipresent in one form or another in virtually every West Indian restaurant from here to Port of Spain. If you get the answer wrong — or at least wrong for you — you may end up with food so hot as to require a postmeal dip in the Atlantic just to quench the flames. That's not to say it isn't satisfying. On the contrary, adding "peppa" unilaterally to your duck curry or doubles or whatever you order is so damned tasty that you'll happily stretch the limits of your constitution just to get another fix.
I found Lovey's, a quaint little shop next to an Indian grocery on Oakland Park Boulevard, after looking to sate a roti craving of my own among Broward's many West Indian eateries — a category that's surprisingly large thanks to a huge population of immigrants from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
For the uninitiated, roti is an Indian-style flatbread that's either served alongside fragrant curry for dipping or rolled up into something resembling an overstuffed burrito. Both a staple and a utensil of sorts, roti is meant to be torn apart by hand and used to scoop, dip, and swipe through sauces, chutneys, and curries of all kinds.
Although cheap and tasty, roti isn't always easy. Ordering at a roti shop can be a bit like trying to order a value meal on Mars. At most joints, there isn't so much a menu as a scattering of handwritten papers taped to cash registers and countertops. Even then, most are full of colloquial terms and exotic phrases. To compound that, employees don't always do a fantastic job of answering questions for confused outsiders.
Fortunately, that's not the case at Lovey's. I brought a roti newbie with me the first time I went there, and with a little help from the cheery woman behind the counter, we managed to navigate the menu just like this: He ordered chicken curry with roti, wrapped up, and with peppa ($6.95). I got a plate of vegetarian curry (also called "straights") that included a cumin-heavy potato and chickpea mash called channa aloo and a bright-orange pumpkin curry that was sweet but not overly so (also $6.95). As we waited patiently at one of the white tables surrounded by plastic palm trees, we watched reggae videos blaring from a flat-screen TV hanging in the center of the room.
One thing I loved about Lovey's right away: At so many Caribbean restaurants around South Florida, food is held in metal steaming trays for seemingly infinite amounts of time. But at Lovey's, I could smell the doughy roti being baked to order. When it arrives at your table, the piping-hot flatbread comes bundled in a wax-paper package. Opening it is like tearing the wrapping off a present, you get so giddy with excitement.
My friend and I practically laughed out loud when we received our huge chicken curry roti blanketed with dhalpourie, a style of flatbread that's filled with grainy lentil and spices. The bundle of potato and curry was bigger than the plate and must have weighed a good two pounds on its own. As we tore open the dhalpourie wrapping, little flecks of yellow lentil scattered wildly across the table. It was messy fare, but the addition of the lentils mellowed the richness of the curry nicely (not to mention quelling the slow-blooming heat of the hot peppa).
If you want to skip the messy lentils, however, order your flatbread "buss up shut," a slang term for roti that's been griddle-cooked and shaped to look like a nest of paper-thin ribbons. Personally, I find that this "plain" roti works best for scooping up pieces of chicken or duck, especially since both types of curry are almost always served bone-in. Sada, which I got with my order of amazingly fresh vegetable curries, is thicker and heartier than the other two kinds — more like naan.
Aside from roti and curry, Lovey's does some fantastic Trinidadian-style street food. Doubles ($2), perhaps Trinidad's best-known export, are crazy popular as cheap, flavor-loaded street fare. Assembly is easy: Take two pieces of freshly fried bread, airy and light with big, yeasty bubbles, and sandwich them around an assortment of curried chickpeas, shredded cucumber, hot pepper, and kuchela, a sort of pickle-like chutney made from green mangoes. A spoonful of ultragarlicky kuchela is served with almost everything you order at Lovey's, but on the doubles, the strident flavors really shine.
My favorite dish of them all was aloo pie ($2), another Trinidadian street food that's sort of like a potato sandwich, only made with a crispy, deep-fried bun. Sweet, tangy with kuchela, and starchy with potato, eating an aloo pie at Lovey's is like a flipping a greasy middle finger at Dr. Atkins. Say "yes" to the peppa, though, and your metabolism will be burning just as fast anyway.