While growing up in Trinidad, Ulric Joseph would look out the window and take comfort in the beauty and simplicity of the island.
A mural of that memory takes up an entire wall at ShadoBenithe vegan restaurant he opened with his wife Jennie Canning in April.
Over the past several years, the couple has built a fanbase by selling Trinidadian dishes at local farmers’ markets and events. Now they have put down roots at 1534 Brighton Road on the North Side.
It’s a bright and cheerful spot with seating for about a dozen inside and sidewalk tables coming soon. Hours are 11:30 to 7 pm Wednesday through Friday and 9 am to 2 pm Saturday and Sunday.
Joseph, who learned how to cook from his mom and his grandmother, brought recipes from home with him when he came to the US in 1995. He attended the Maryland Institute College of Art on a full scholarship and, after a stint in the tech industry , ended up becoming an adjunct professor and student adviser at his alma mater, all while creating his own art. (He won Best of Show in the 2019 Juried Visual Art Exhibition at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.)
Academia, not to mention the commute from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and back, wore him down, so he decided to simplify his life.
Food was the answer.
ShadoBeni is how Trinidadians phonetically like chadon beni, a popular herb also known as culantro. It is similar to cilantro but has a more potent flavor.
Diners can try Indian-influenced Dhal Puri Roti with a choice of fillings (curry stewed soya, channa and potato, spinach choka, pumpkin choka or seasonal veggies) stuffed in a flatbread baked with seasoned split peas.
You can also have those fillings tossed in a bowl filled with coconut rice or mixed greens and topped with homemade sauces ranging from mango chutney and tamarind to mild or hot pepper sauce.
There are a number of traditional sides, such as plantains and spicy slaw, and beverages, such as smoothies, KLVN Coffee Lab coffee and Trinidadian soft drinks.
A weekend brunch menu features Impossible Meat hand pies, Zaboca (avocado) Salad and Doubles, Trinidad’s most popular street food. The dish features curried chickpeas tucked between two pieces of fried flatbread and dressed in tamarind, mango chutney, pepper sauce and cucumber chutney. It’s messy but delicious.
Canning, a teacher, makes the pastries, including coconut bake, a thick, Caribbean-style bread.
Joseph says the business venture received overwhelming support from organizations such as the Northside / North Shore Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The couple owns the building that houses the restaurant and hopes to host live music and other events in the empty lot across the street.
For those who can’t make it out to Brighton Road, Joseph still plans to make the rounds at area farmers’ markets. With several vegan restaurants (including B52 in Lawrenceville) closing in the last month, he doesn’t want to leave hungry people in the lurch.
Ingredients are locally sourced when possible and to-go containers are 100 percent biodegradable and food waste is composted through Worm Returna woman-owned, socially responsible organic material diversion company.
ShadoBeni gets crowded during the lunch and dinner rushes, so you can place your order online to avoid a wait. But you don’t want to miss the décor and Caribbean music that will make you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation.
“I want people to have a safe space where they can get good, affordable food. Vegan food has a reputation for being bland, ”Joseph says with a smile. “I don’t eat or make bland food.”