Customers at Annie’s Hot On D Spot Roti Shop keep an eye on the Australian cricket match playing on the TVs above the front door, even on Super Bowl Sunday.
This tiny, lively, take-out shop in a strip mall in Hamilton Township, on the edge of Trenton, is nothing if not a mélange of cultures. So, when there’s a break in the cricket action, the older gentleman sitting at the table next to yours may well ask whether you prefer an Eagles or Patriots victory that day.
A new dad walks in, carrying his baby daughter in a car seat, and opens his jacket to reveal a Giants jersey. He’s got no skin in the game. Rather, he’s here for the roti “skins,” the supple bread that contains an otherwise messy Trinidadian sandwich. He’s also feeling festive, and orders 10 “doubles” to take home before the big game.
Annie Sewdass, owner of this popular roti shop, stacks 10 foil-wrapped circles on the counter. Doubles, on the double! Each packet contains two pieces of fried bread, filled with a mild channa curry. “It’s street food,” she explains to us, her curious newcomers. “You pick it up and eat it with your hands.”
She sends one to our table, as a sample. It’s hot, crispy, satisfying. Doubles are on special today—a mere dollar! We resist ordering our own stack.
Everything on the menu is made by Sewdass and her kitchen crew. This includes the insanely hot pepper sauce that accompanies the roti. A pat of butter would barely fit into the container of sauce, but it is way more than enough to flavor the sandwich. The sauce is vinegar-y and lingers on your tongue and down your throat for a long time. You’ll see stars.
Wash it down with homemade ginger beer, or even better, with a sorrel drink, sweet and floral, made with hibiscus flowers but tasting of cinnamon.
Roti can be filled with meat or vegetables, in any combination. Sewdass says she usually pairs potatoes with chick peas or spinach with pumpkin, so we order both and can’t decide which is better. The spinach is fresh and juicy, a good foil to sweet, velvety pumpkin. But chick peas and potatoes—how much more comforting can you get in the winter? As a tie-breaker, we also order a boneless chicken roti, in which firm chunks of potato play off tender chunks of chicken. We cannot pick a favorite.
Meanwhile, there is a big platter of oxtail stew to tackle. The meat is cooked with sugar, which tenderizes as well as sweetens it. Piles of fluffy rice and black-eyed peas cushion the meat.
A group of well-dressed older women enter the shop, perhaps coming from church? One orders a “Buss Up Shut,” which we learn is kind of the West Indian version of ropa vieja, in that it is a meat-filled roti with roughed-up skin that makes it appear like a “busted-up shirt.” Another church lady is standing by the dessert case and points out what she wants.
We follow suit, making room for dessert and feeling happy about it. Everything is sticky-sweet, but delicate. There is pone, a Trinidadian bread pudding that tastes of sweet cornmeal. A coconut roll is chewy and nutty. Best of all is the currant roll, with juicy little currants in a flaky pastry, like Trinidad’s answer to blueberry pie.
The place clears out for a few minutes, before the next rush of take-out customers. There’s a pan of shrimp among the dishes displayed, buffet-style, behind the counter. How’d we miss that? Rain is falling outside, and it’s so pleasant here that for a minute, we think we might find room, or maybe get it to go?
But then the door flies open and new customers hurry in to be served. Sewdass bustles behind the counter. Next time, shrimp, for sure. And, what, there’s mango chow? Another reason to return.
Annie’s Hot On D Spot Roti Shop, 1469 Nottingham Way, Hamilton. 609-586-0088 or hotondspotrotishop.com.