Caicos Café Providenciales, Turks and Caicos IslandsReviewed November / December 2015

A photograph of  Homemade Tagliolini with Seafood at Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Homemade Tagliolini with Seafood is a favourite

By Mandy Rostance-Wolf

When word hit the street that two Italian guys from Bermuda were taking over Caicos Café – a long-time popular dining spot – the island was abuzz with a mix of anticipation, trepidation and speculation. They are known simply as Max and Marco. Five short years ago they were virtually unheard of in these parts. It didn’t take long for this dynamic duo of the culinary persuasion to carve an indelible place in our hearts, and on our palates. They put their personal stamp on Caicos Café, making it their own not only in name but also in reputation.

Today, owner/Chef Massimo ‘Max’ Olivari and owner/manager Marco Zanuccoli are household names, celebrated for their fabulous cuisine. Caicos Café offers a diverse and engaging menu that features Mediterranean Specialties, house-made pasta, freshly baked bread, succulent BBQ meats, grilled local seafood and housemade desserts.

A photograph of Crudo Carpaccio Festival Appetisers at Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Fresh appetiser specials at Caicos Café may include a Crudo Carpaccio Festival

This popular, bistro-style gem exudes Caribbean charm, complete with white, gingerbread trim and dark plank wood floors. The deck was built around an enormous and majestic Poinciana tree, its massive, elephant- like limbs wrapped in colourful lights.

The vibe is relaxed and friendly, with that distinctively warm, generous, Mediterranean hospitality that begins with complimentary bruschetta and bread. Overwhelming aromas and flavours proliferate your palate, with roasted tomatoes, basil chiffonade, olives, and shards of Parmesan, drizzled with EVOO. Bread is a bastion of Italian cuisine and a fundamental part of the meal. Indulge in a variety of breads, together with a fresh, homemade herb-infused olive oil for dipping. Infused is hardly appropriate. This carafe is crammed to bursting with herbs, the olive oil fragrant and delicious, with a wonderful, fresh herbaceousness.

A photograph of Spiced Calamari Skewer Appetiser at Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Spiced Calamari Skewer at Caicos Cafe

Caicos Café has become somewhat of a legend in its own time. Their fabulous carte de jour of dishes are addictive and become culinary vices that trigger an irresistible compulsion to return again and again to placate yet another fix, beginning with Escargot.

This decadent dish arrived at the table still bubbling, the dimples in the plate overflowing with plenty of plump and juicy snails, smothered in shallots, garlic and a savoury herb butter. My favourite dining companion was fixated and captivated right “down to the last slug.”

A Shrimp, Smoked Salmon and Mango Salad brought about an emphatic and enthusiastic, “Anything with smoked salmon has to be good.” And this certainly was, with peppery arugula, fennel and a “tangy but not overpowering” mango vinaigrette.

The Grilled Spiced Calamari is an ingeniously orchestrated dish and a hearty one. A skewer of flawlessly grilled and tender calamari glistened atop cannellini beans, together with mussels, roasted tomatoes and a delicate parsley sauce. Thanks for the slice of grilled focaccia – you know what to do with it.

A photograph of Tortelli with Five Cheeses in Brown Butter Sauce at Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Caicos Café’s Tortelli with Five Cheeses in Brown Butter Sauce

A glimpse of the blackboard showing the Evening Specials is always a highly anticipated start to the dinner. Many nights I arrive with a pre-set menu already decided, only to experience the inevitable conundrum of indecision after seeing the Specials. This night, I could not resist Max’s Potato & Arugula Gnocchi special. The arugula made this pasta a lovely shade of green, with roasted butternut squash, cheese fondue and truffle oil. And if that wasn’t decadent enough, two crispy slices of pancetta sat teasingly atop this luscious, creamy and tantalising dish.

When it comes to wine, we all agreed, “Leave it to Marco … he never fails!” His reputation remained intact and unsullied with a 2009 Gianni Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Marina Cvetic. A mouthful to say, and to enjoy, with concentrated fruit and a rich, full mouth feel.

The homemade Tortelli was divine. Six delicious pasta pockets were stuffed with a deliciously savoury roasted pumpkin and five, count ‘em, five kinds of cheese; ricotta, brie, Parmesan, goat cheese and Mozzarella. This "magnificent" dish was bathed in a superb and extravagant thyme brown butter sauce, topped with plenty of crunchy pecans and Parmesan cheese.

Some of Max’s dishes have reached what we enthusiastically dubbed, ‘epic status.’ The Seafood Casserole Mediterranean Style was just that. EPIC. A sautéed, rusticstyle ‘stew’ with shrimp, scallops, salmon, grouper, mussels, clams and calamari simmered with EVOO, spices, jalapeño, wine, tomatoes and parsley. After listening to my dining companion’s undulating discourse of admiring and emphatic accolades, my husband abandoned the menu and simply said, “I’m having epic!”

A photograph of Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Caicos Café is just steps away from your resort on Governors Road

My homemade Tagliolini with Pernod Flambéed Seafood was stiff competition on the ‘epic’ scale. Long, square-shaped ribbons of pasta meandered through a veritable bounty of seafood that included scallops, calamari, clams, mussels, shrimp, salmon and grouper. All with a fabulous kick, courtesy of spices, lime and jalapeño. It’s the most popular pasta dish on the menu. That may be so, but I happen to know, personally, throngs of staunch devotees of Max’s infamous Orecchiette with pork sausage ragout, who may beg to differ.

Max’s ribs have become somewhat of an urban legend. On the menu, they appear as Broiled Pork Ribs. I have a better suggestion, Freakin’ Epic Pork Ribs. The operative words are smothered, slathered and sloppy, times eight. One look and you can’t resist the overwhelming temptation to pick up these Bourbon BBQ sauce-soaked babies and dive in Marco arrived as my fellow diner was licking his lips, his reverence for the ribs profound and heartfelt. Marco just smiled knowingly and said, “We cook it slow, with the juice, so the meat breaks down.”

A photograph of Marinated Broiled Pork Ribs at Caicos Café on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Marinated Broiled Pork Ribs at Caicos Café

“What’s the most popular dish?” I asked. Without reservation he said, “The catch of the day, after that, it’s the ribs.”

It was then that Max appeared. “Here he is. You can ask all the secrets!” Marco teased. “Tell me no lies!” my husband bantered. “I have no secrets!” Max countered. Everything was fantastic; we crooned. We sang the praises of the seafood casserole and the amazingly rich and flavourful broth with capers and olives. Max explained, “It’s the way we do seafood soup in Italy, more or less on the coast.” Each epic portion is cooked to order, and it tasted that way.

A photograph of Caicos Café Gourmet Desserts on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Caicos Café Gourmet Desserts

I was curious to ask Max how ribs fit into Italian cuisine, but my fellow diner just piped up and said, “Who cares? Just don’t stop making them!” Max delighted us with the time-intensive process that he admits is the ‘American way,’ and not how it’s done in Italy. “In the morning, I put in lots of spices like paprika and celery salt, marinade after with jalapeño, lime juice, olive oil, something else – I don’t remember!” “Ah, so this is the secret!” we quipped. We could see where this was going. He regaled us with more descriptions of soaking, and grilling, and sauces, and baking, and broiling, and the grand finale, the Bourbon BBQ sauce, made with a “couple of cups” of Tennessee Whiskey.

So many of Max’s dishes have become personal and perennial favourites, and we all joked that anarchy would surely ensue should Max make any significant changes to the menu. That said, Max entertained us with an amusing story, his voice quite spirited and his gestures animated. “I wanted to change the menu altogether, to be honest. But this guy wants Orecchiette, the other guy wants something else. In the summertime, when I removed some of the heavier [winter] dishes – Oh my god! What a disaster! They came in the kitchen. Where’s my lamb shank; where’s my ravioli?”

A photograph of Caicos Café Affagato on Governors Road, Providenciales (Provo), Turks and Caicos Islands.Baileys Affogato at Caicos Café

It’s hard to resist ‘dolce.’ The Tiramisu is classic, and the Coconut and Chocolate Parfait tastes like a mousse. There’s decadent Molton Chocolate Cake, a Trio of Crème Brulee and the always fabulous Baileys Affogato – vanilla ice cream soaked in Espresso and Baileys. It’s like having your cake and drinking it too.

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