Caribe Restaurant celebrated its grand opening in West Hartford on Jan. 25.
By Ronni Newton
Dominican cuisine is the latest entrée into the West Hartford dining scene, with a new restaurant opening in a prominent spot at the gateway to the town.
Caribe (pronounced ka-ree-bay) opened Monday in the former Prospect Cafe location at 345. Prospect Ave., on the northwest corner of the intersection with Park Road.
Owner Milagros Pineda – who also owns a much more casual take-out oriented restaurant named Caribe in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood – said she was “very excited and proud” to open the new restaurant. She’s developed many of the recipes herself over the years, based on the cuisine she grew up with in her native Dominican Republic, and began serving to the public as lunches she created and sold out of her Hartford apartment more than 20 years ago.
Creation of the new restaurant has been a labor of love, and one involving Pineda’s large extended family. Most of the family members, who live in the Hartford area, attended the grand opening, and several family members will be involved in the restaurant full time.
Berlin Pineda, Milagros Pineda’s daughter, has helped guide the project every step of the way, and will help run the restaurant. Janibel Trout, the daughter of one of Milagros Pineda’s other children (Milagros has six daughters and one son, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren), is Caribe’s manager.
The menu (see PDF below) is more extensive and upscale than the Hartford location, and Trout said she expects the Bistec Encebollado (top sirloin steak with onion) to be a favorite, along with several versions of mofongo (a base of fried green plantains mixed with garlic and crispy pork rind, broth, and olive oil).
“Here we have a grill,” Trout said, and many of the dishes feature grilled steak or salmon. Paella is also on the menu at Caribe.
There are a variety of appetizers – including homemade empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken, or cheese, and fried calamari – as well as salads, sandwiches, and pastas.
A full bar features mojitos, margaritas, and other tropical specialties, and wine is available by the glass or bottle. Cans and bottles of beer, hard cider, and hard seltzer are offered, and for those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, fresh juices as well as Morir Soñado (a traditional Dominican drink made with orange juice and milk) are also on the menu.
There’s also a kids’ menu, and while the same menu is available at lunch and dinnertime during the week, brunch will be served from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, featuring a variety of Dominican and American specialties.
Caribe has transformed the former Prospect Cafe with a new coat of dark paint on the walls, and a polished wood counter constructed by another relative prominently featured in the center of the space.
The industrial look of exposed brick and partially open ceiling has been updated with Dominican touches and a black and gold color scheme, including a gold map of the Dominican Republic (a gift from Milagros Pineda’s son) and a wall of black-and-white prints of Dominican landmarks framed in gold.
The Caribe logo includes a palm tree, and Latin music in the background adds another element of Dominican culture.
Caribe Restaurant currently seats 57, and once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted there will be seating for 115. The expansive patio will add seating once the weather warms up.
Extensive interior updates had been made when Paul and Jeff Emery reopened the iconic West Hartford restaurant in 2015, after the original version by the same name had been closed for two years. Prospect Cafe was shuttered for good in September 2020, but it wasn’t long before plans were underway for Caribe to open.
“It was an opportunity that we saw,” Trout said. She said they had been thinking of opening another restaurant when her uncle saw the space for rent and decided it was a great location.
Caribe is hoping to become a staple of the neighborhood, and like many other Park Road businesses, are eagerly anticipating the One Park Road development, which will bring nearly 300 apartments to the property right across the street.
To make a reservation or order food for take-out call Caribe Restaurant at 860-904-9986.
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