A Secret Corner of Aruba

By Alexander Britell

ARUBA – Gilbert Raven loved The Flintstones.

There was something about Fred and Barney, about Dino, about pedaling with your feet.

And it inspired him to build it. To build this place.

Something about a trip to Brazil, some special chairs, something led him to make this, these tables, a replica of Dino and even something that resembled Fred’s foot-pedaled car.

big mama exterior

The setting was Baby Beach, on the far frontier of Aruba, the southern edge across the water from Venezuela, at a beach that was beautiful like every beach on this island, in a remote spot surrounded by desolate fields of cacti, with just a few people and palapas.

bay

Baby Beach

And here on Baby Beach was something else: the thing that he had built: Big Mama Grill.

bib mama statue

It was filled with rows of massive wood chairs and tables carved from Brazilian wood, of major statues, and, yes, even Dino. It was furniture of a stone-age scale.

There is no lifeguard. There is Dino.

There is no lifeguard. There is Dino.

But beyond its funkiness, I discovered that Big Mama Grill was something else — a beach restaurant that serves some of the best fish in Aruba.

inside

Scroll down the large menu. Scroll down past the burgers and the things you should forget about ordering, and you’ll simply find “fish,” although it can be prepared any of several ways, curry, creole, grilled, fried … yes, fried.

loutiza

Loutiza Gilbert

I was lucky — I had asked Loutiza, Gilbert’s daughter, what she, the chef, recommended. “Fish.”

On this day it was grouper, perfectly tender, soft, fried in a batter that was a departure from much of the fried fish I had ever tried in the Caribbean.

It wasn’t lightly breaded — it was more like fried chicken batter — spicy, crunchy, battery, layered with creole space. Whatever it was, this chicken-fried fish was miraculous.

fish

Here, in a secret corner of Aruba where mostly intrepid travelers go, I had found some of the best fried fish in the Caribbean.

And there was only one thing I could say.

Yabba Dabba Doo.

— CJ