The flavors of Trinidad will begin brightening a corner of Jefferson Chalmers on Detroit’s east side this week with the long anticipated arrival of Norma G’s. The food truck-turned-restaurant is on track to debut on Thursday, August 16 at 14700 East Jefferson Ave. with a menu comprised of Caribbean comfort foods with a little Detroit flair mixed in.
Owner Lester Gouvia, who founded a pop-up named after his Trinidadian mother in 2014, has been working towards opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant for close to three years. With the opening this week, he says he’s just looking forward to getting back to focusing hospitality and away from the stress that comes with renovation.
At 113 seats including 12 seats at the bar and 22 on the patio, Norma G’s features a large casual dining space surrounded by big windows looking out on East Jefferson’s charming business corridor. The restaurant has a modern feel on the exterior with a mixture of black metal and wood. Toward the back of the building, the restaurant has its own parking lot and a separate patio area where Gouvia’s team grills jerk chicken.
With the interior, Gouvia made a conscious effort to stay away from the tiki aesthetic; he opted instead for bright accent colors with punches of teal, lime green, coral, yellow, and pink in the upholstery and walls. “The Caribbean is a very colorful place and you have carnival,” Gouvia says, “so the colors were part of me giving this place a Caribbean feel.” The custom walnut bar top is paired with silver corrugated metal panels. Gouvia added common Caribbean sayings such as “We limin” and “Better belly buss than good food waste” throughout the walls of the space.
Fans of the Norma G’s food truck can count on seeing some of their favorites including jerk chicken sliders and macaroni and cheese return on the new restaurant menu. But he’s also excited to introduce some of the dishes he grew up with that may be less familiar in Detroit such as cou-cou and callaloo — a meal made from polenta, okra, spinach, and seasonings that also happens to be vegan. Diners can also expect options like oxtail sliders and curry goat. For dessert there's frozen custard with mango chutney or Trinidad rum and cinnamon custard. “Everything is comfort food. This is what I grew up on,” he says. “This is what my mother Norma cooked for us and I’m just looking [forward to] sharing that with people.”
In addition to Caribbean sorrel drink and sodas, Norma G’s has also acquired a liquor license and will offer a full bar with beer, wine, and cocktails. The restaurant will offer four beers on draft from Wolverine State Brewing Company and Batch Brewing Company. The cocktails are riffs on drinks Gouvia is used to drinking around holidays including two styles of punch and sorrel drink mixed with Trinidadian rum.
Gouvia is still hiring staff, but expects to open by Thursday. He will initially open for dinner only but down the road may also branch out into lunch service. Take a look around Detroit’s colorful new destination for Caribbean cuisine in the gallery below.
Norma G’s is located at 14700 East Jefferson Ave.; the restaurant will open from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday; 4:40 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
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