Turning off of Avenida de las Americas towards Samaná and after the first toll booth, you’d never know there was a serious BBQ operation in the same stop as the Texaco gas station. But you should. From the road, it looks like a typical rest stop – gas station, convenience store, restrooms – but there is nothing typical about Gran Parador Bellamar. It’s as if Texas exploded and delivered a baby in Santo Domingo.
The adventure starts when you open your car door; the music so loud you assume there’s a party, but there is no party, it’s just the Dominican Republic on a Sunday. At the door stand two girls, promoting Brugal’s newest line of rums, Fusion. They offer free shots of the four Fusion rums, the coco piña is the best.
When you move past the shot girls, the fullness of the operation unfolds. The convenience store itself is huge but the display case of all kinds of BBQ goodness is intense.
“Where’s the line?” I ask.
“There…” Husband points with a nod of his nose like a seasoned Dominican. I follow his nose point around the corner and to the back.
“This place is serious,” he affirms, knowing my natural, impatient reaction is to leave.
But the long line gave me a chance to live in the moment and mind record the experience. We looked out the window at the grill the size of a small whale that churned out ribs, chicken, pork, salmon, sausages, wings – name it – on continuous mode. I watched the waitresses’ flow, navigating in between crowds with heaping platefuls of meat, avocado, and tostones in one arm and frosty jumbos of Presidente in the other. We looked out at the outdoor, covered seating area – about 10 picnic tables, mostly full. It looked more like a family reunion than a rest stop gas station. Next time, I’ll bring a blanket and make a day of it. And I
nosily curiously observed the group of tigueres* in front of us like National Geographic observing the wild. These were manly dudes – dressed well, good looking, sharp haircuts, big, fit dudes. These are typical latino men with so much machismo they could package it and sell it and what I love about macho men is that they embrace and hold hands like a boss. Because yeah.
When we were almost at the front, Husband looked at me intensely, “I’m just gonna warn you. I’m going to go overboard here. Like disgusting.”
It was a warning and an invitation, “Let’s. Do. This.”
The operation behind that corner was no joke. Ten people behind that counter hustled and moved around one another with precision. Our order? Ribs, pork, breaded chicken cutlet, eggplant parm, grilled potatoes with olive oil and herbs, white rice, habichuelas* (red beans), one chicken croqueta for good measure… and some vegetables for our health.
For this feast that fed our family of four lunch, plus my parents later on that day, and a small lunch the next day, we paid $40. We felt like kings. Like champions. We grabbed our bags of food to leave and as we did Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” played like our own personal exit song. And because our family of foodies was already throwing down in the food department, we threw down in the dance department too and jammed the whole way to our car with our bag of BBQ heavenly goodness.
~ UNTIL THE NEXT BOTTLE ~
- tigueres – connotation matters but loosely speaking a tiguere is a slick talking, wheeling and dealing, finger snapping, get-it-done kinda guy with, usually, mucho swag
- These were the best habichuelas (red beans) I’ve had on the island to date.
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