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After six years on the road, Trinistyle Cuisine’s iconic red and white-checkered canteen truck is about to get a much-needed rest, and owners Merlin and Latoya Garcia stand to save on gas costs and expand their menu and hours. The only source for authentic Trinidadian fare in L.A. since Treehouse closed in 2015 will stay mostly stationary at their 2159 W. Century Blvd. kitchen, slated to open around Valentine’s day, reserving their well-loved truck for deliveries and events.
Among the eatery’s most beloved offerings are “doubles,” curried chickpeas sandwiched between two slices of flatbread, seasoned with scotch bonnet peppers and garlic; pholourie, fried dough balls served with chutney for dipping inspired by East Indian cuisine; and roti, a curry stew and meat folded tightly into a paratha roll. At their new kitchen, which will serve take out and deliver, the pair intend to serve traditional Trinidadian Sunday brunch.
“Sundays in Trinidad are like a celebration thing, it has to happen,” Merlin told What Now Los Angeles. “If you’re not having a Sunday brunch in Trinidad I don’t know where you are…any Trinidadian you ask, if you ask them what they eat, they’ll tell you the same thing for Sunday brunch.”
Any Trinidadian Sunday brunch worth its salt (or, rather, cardamom) includes “macaroni pie,” baked mac-and-cheese served in a pie crust; callaloo, like a spicier creamed spinach made with okra; and stewed chicken or beef, fixed with pigeon peas and red kidney beans.
Merlin first learned to cook as a child in the Carribean, where her stepmother operated a roti shop and, “especially when you are a girl, you learn to cook at an early age, getting scolded to perfect it when you make mistakes.”
Years later, when Merlin and her family moved from Trinidad to Inglewood, her great-aunt and stepmother’s recipes earned acclaim among her children’s friends. After they asked for more food week after week and her neighbors were lured by the smells of her kitchen, she determined that she’d have to start charging.
Merlin said she is also excited to take her customers on a culinary journey through the Carribean, showcasing the foods of different islands each weekend on her menu. Previously only available on Saturdays due to Merlin’s full-time job, the kitchen will remain open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“I was cooking out of a commissary kitchen. The setback to that is that you share a kitchen with one or two or sometimes three other people — You have a limited time to cook, you have a limited time to get your food processed and to get out on the road to sell. When I did the math, I decided ‘okay, I’m paying this much a month for this kitchen and I don’t have the time that I need for the amount of food that my clients are requesting and I can’t expand my menu.’ So, I’m getting the [new] space and conforming it to what I need,” said Merlin of her decision to go stationary. “In a food truck, you bounce around a lot, you go from this corner to that corner to the other corner. There’s a fun part of it, some customers want to catch up with you, but in my opinion, it gets tired.”
Marlin and Latoya are devising ways to take advantage of the courtyard space on their new property — when COVID allows, they hope to host a steel pannist and other island entertainment in the space.
“That’s the type of thing that I’m trying to bring,” said Merlin. “I haven’t been able to get that since the treehouse closed down. When I came back [to California after a stint living in the Northeast] I was shocked — there wasn’t even a place to represent a whole lot of people. That was one of my biggest motivations — to have a place where people could get something that they couldn’t normally get from home. The Trinidadian community is huge — they love to gather and enjoy themselves and eat while they’re enjoying themselves.”