Step into LoLo’s Seafood Shack (303 West 116th Street; 646-649-3356) and you’ll be immediately enveloped by island vibes: Bright oranges and blues are splashed on the walls, local colorful artwork is prominently displayed. The interior channels both the Caribbean and Cape Cod, which is fitting since LoLo’s serves Caribbean eats with a New England twist.
Owner Leticia Skai Young and owner and executive chef Raymond Mohan both have Caribbean roots; Young is a Harlem native whose family is from Belize, and Mohan was born and brought up in Guyana. The duo, who are husband and wife, decided to combine their American and Caribbean upbringings in their new restaurant.
LoLo’s Seafood Shack’s name originates in the Caribbean, too, where lolos — small traditional restaurants where you can sample local fare — run rampant. But while lolos typically serve items like chicken, ribs, and fish, they don’t customarily serve crab legs and crawfish like LoLo’s Seafood Shack. That aspect is Young and Mohan’s spin on Caribbean cuisine.
LoLo’s sandwiches are some of the restaurant’s more popular offerings, and eat true to Caribbean cuisine. They’re made with homemade bread, called johnny cakes, which are popular all over the Caribbean. These are similar to a Trinidadian bake (a sandwich), though dishes come from all over the region.
“I would say that there’s a flair of authenticity to the things that we make, and the vibe overall of it being very nostalgic of the Caribbean,” says Young, “I would say that [the recipes] are all unique to Raymond’s cooking…Some of the things are authentic, like the flavors and the spices, but I wouldn’t say that [our] recipes are [traditional]. The menu reflects the way of life in the Caribbean.”
The johnny cake — which is served with LoLo’s bakes and can also be ordered alone — is central to the restaurant. “In Belize, that bread is called a johnny cake. In Trinidad, they call that sandwich a bake…People eat johnny cakes from Rhode Island on down. But in the south, they’re called hoe cakes. It’s something that kind of ties the whole concept together, because it’s Caribbean but can be found all along the Atlantic coast, like a lot of our seafood,” says Young.
Vegetarians will find plenty to make them happy. LoLo’s vegetarian sandwich is the avocado bake ($9), which features an avocado puree, plantains, honey butter, and cotija cheese. The johnny cake batter is infused with thyme and scallions, and fried until its edges are crunchy. It’s then glazed with honey butter, sliced open, and served in the style of an arepa or falafel.
The scallions provide a slight pungency that carries through to the creamy avocado puree, which is spiked with onions and tomato. The plantains add a nice subtle sweet note against the savory contrast.
The wok-seared cauliflower ($4) is charred and smoky; a garlic crema gives the dish a tanginess. The sweet potatoes ($6) are also covered in honey butter, and like the plantains, are both firm and soft.
The veggie sides portion of LoLo’s menu has the most vegetarian options, and all of the items can be made vegan as well.