The Taste: Pusser’s Caribbean Grille
A Tot’ or Two and Island GrubBy Rita Calvert // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
On a rainy afternoon I entered Pusser’s through their main door and traveled down their hallway boasting many awards for Best of: “Dock and Dine.” The entrance gallery also showcased black and white photographs of the historic Annapolis waterfront, as well as, the charming entrance to the Pusser’s Company store. Co-owner Clyde Culp welcomed me and we sat in a cozy booth joined by Chef Jim Eriksen—the elements and Ego Alley visible through large glass windows. Clyde offered the infamous gentle yet powerful Painkiller, but I decided to safely stick to bubbly H2o.
From our chat emerged lots of “behind-the-scenes” stories as well as Chef’s signature recipe for the Salmon Tower entree that has been remained on the menu for years by popular demand.
Remind us (since it is a widely spread tale) how the name Pusser’s originated?
Pusser’s tradition began in 1655 when Great Britain’s Royal Navy replaced the daily beer ration on its ships with what we know today as Pusser’s Rum. The purser issued a blend of five Caribbean rums to his ship’s crew in increments of one pint a day. “Pusser” is Royal Navy slang for a “purser”—a ship’s supply officer. On July 31, 1970, the Navy stopped their daily issue of rum. Pusser’s Rum was never sold or offered to the public, so if a connoisseur was fortunate enough to obtain a ‘tot’ or two, he valued it for a very special occasion.
“Location, location, location,” has been described of Pusser’s. Clyde, how did you come to snag it?
Historically food eateries in hotels have a confused identity and therefore a tough time making a go of it. The 21-year-old Ego Alley hotel needed a restaurant with some identity. In 1979, Charles Tobias, entrepreneur, engineer, sailor, and global adventurer, secured the rights to the name and the blending formula of the 350-year-old rum and launched British Navy Pusser’s Rum from his base in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a Crown Colony of Great Britain. Pusser’s Brand, Ltd. expanded to include restaurants (named “outposts”) of BVI character, retail stores, and the rum. Tobias proposed the Pusser’s brand restaurant to the Ego Alley hotel that started the Annapolis namesake, coinciding with the area’s sailing tradition.
Chef, how would you describe your menu offerings? Does the Annapolis’ Pusser’s have a decidedly Chesapeake influence on the menu?
Pusser’s is a, “Brighten your day,” kind of place with a menu which is 60 percent Caribbean and 40 percent Chesapeake. We have a big draw for our tropical Caribbean style, but we can’t source all of the same ingredients as they have in the islands. Goat is the most popular meat down there, but here we use chicken in the curries with Caribbean spices. Our New England lobster is our version of the Spiny lobster of the islands. Of course, Blue crab rules here and we always have it on the menu with our Crab Dip and Crab Cakes served a few different ways.
Chef, do you make seasonal changes to the menu?
Yes and no. We have a much smaller fall menu, which makes room for all of our special events. We have changes in the sense of the three-course prix fixe specials we offer for different months. In December, Prime Rib is featured for $19.95 and in January, it’s Surf and Turf. In the slower months, these specials bring folks downtown. We do anything we can to keep vitality going in Historic Annapolis.
How do new dishes get added to the menu?
We create new menu ideas and get to “test drive” them during the winter months to see which will win a spot on our permanent menu. With our signature Beer Dinner, three different Wine Pairing dinners, and a Bourbon dinner we can get very creative with the food. The attendees give us the feedback as a yea or nay! We are just too busy from mid-March until early November to attempt placing new items on the menu.
Is the rum distillery, now based in Charleston, South Carolina, a separate business under different ownership than the restaurants?
Charles Tobias owns the rum and it remains a separate entity from the rest of the Pusser’s brand. It is distilled in Guyana, which has produced highly sought-after sugar since the 17th century. It is the only rum still made in wooden pots, which impart a depth of flavor. It has since won six gold, double gold, and platinum medals and two Masters awards in the world’s most prestigious competitions, creating a cult following. For every bottle of Pusser’s Rum sold, a portion is donated to the Royal Navy Sailors’ Fund and Tobias also supports numerous charities worldwide. The Charleston location serves as the corporate office and U.S. distribution point for the rum.
Clyde, name all Pusser’s locations...Germany? Do the restaurants in the U.S. and Caribbean have different owners?
The Pusser’s Restaurants we own are located in Annapolis and Ponte Verde, Florida. Charles Tobias owns the BVI locations. Pusser’s Bar, Munich, is owned by Bill Deck.
The tower salmon was designed to bring Caribbean flavor to easily obtainable food, namely salmon. The real hit is the curried mango-corn salsa. Sweet mango with shoe peg corn is the base, flavored with just enough curry and cilantro that you know they are in there, but not enough to overpower the mango.
Tip: Make the mango-corn salsa and whipped yams prior to starting the salmon. It’s best to let the salsa sit overnight in the fridge for flavors to meld together.
- 1 fillet of salmon (8 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons rum barbecue sauce (your favorite, adding a dash of rum)
- 1/2 cup whipped yams
- 1 order steamed vegetables (of your choice)
- 2 tablespoons mango-corn salsa
- 1 each jerked rice cake (or rice with jerk seasoning)
- 1 each lemon wedge
- A sprinkle of brunoise bell peppers (a small dice of red, yellow, and green peppers)
Char-grill salmon making an “X” grill mark pattern on flesh side of the fish. As soon as you turn the fish, begin basting with 1 ounce of the barbecue sauce. When fish is finished, grill-baste again with the remaining barbecue sauce.
To AssemblePlace one scoop of whipped yams in center of plate, and lean the fish against yams. Cut rice cake in a tall, right angle triangle and deep fry until dark brown and crispy. Stick rice cake into whipped yams with point of cake sticking straight up. Place steamed vegetables on opposite side from rice cake. Garnish fish with the mango-corn relish pouring over the bottom half. Place lemon on top of half fish and add a sprinkle of brunoise peppers around the rim.
- 2 ripe mangoes
- 1/4 cup of each, diced red pepper, onion, de-seeded and skinned cucumber, and de-seeded plum tomato, diced scallion, grilled corn kernels (white corn is best)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon curry paste
- 1/4 cup Coco Lopez
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- Pinch of ground cumin
- A few drops of mango extract (not a necessity, but tasty)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cut flesh away from seed on mangoes. Dice into one-half-inch cubes. Place half the mangoes in blender with a little water and puree. Pour puree into heavy saucepan, add sugar, and bring to a boil. When sugar is dissolved into puree, reduce heat and add cumin, curry, and Coco Lopez. Continue simmering until syrupy-thick. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Whipped YamsServes 8
- 1 lb. yams, peeled and cubed
- 1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Pinch jerk seasoning
- Pinch allspice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Place yams and potatoes in pan with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cover. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes or until potatoes and yams are tender. Cube butter and place in mixing bowl with jerk seasoning and allspice. Drain potatoes and yams well and place on top of butter; allow to stand a couple of minutes to lightly melt butter. With potato masher, smash and mix until smooth and evenly blended. Add heavy cream slowly until proper consistency is reached. Salt and pepper to taste. Hold warm until ready to serve.