It’s noon on a Tuesday. From the street, balter appears locked up and shuttered. Not a soul in sight. But beyond the back kitchen door, the team is busy with prep work. Fresh fruit sorbet is blending, before being frozen to the perfect consistency, ahead of the the first dessert order. Executive Chef Digby Stridiron says he normally comes in to begin preparing for dinner around 9 a.m. and plans to start coming in even earlier.
Since opening April 9, balter has had several months to work the kinks out. The prominent Christiansted restaurant is hitting its stride. It has received impressive media attention, recently fielding a visit from The New York Times Travel & Leisure section (set to print next year). balter’s Facebook fans are growing at an impressive rate, currently nearing 5,000. On Trip Advisor, reviews are averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars with 45 reviews listed.
The food balter produces is a labor of love. Everything they make is sourced in the Virgin Islands down to the salt (sea salt from St. John). Chef Stridiron takes his duty of sourcing very seriously. He’s on a first name basis with every one of balter’s vendors, and credits them on the menu for what they grow or catch.
balter is built locally in every sense of the word. The tables at which you sit were handmade in Frederiksted. The plate from which you eat was locally crafted by a ceramic artisan.
The former eyesore building was painstakingly chosen for renovation because of its rich history and dominant location in Christiansted. Before balter and prior to its dilapidated state, the building was Caribbean Clothing. For Chef Stridiron, who was born and raised on St. Croix, this location is particularly meaningful with rich memories from his childhood. He recalls seeing Caribbean Clothing fashion shows during Jump-Ups on Company Street in front of the retail store. Many years before that, the balter building was a home owned by emancipated slaves. It was originally slave quarters. Chef Stridiron did his homework and found photos of his ancestors living right down the block in the 1700s. Its location today is ideally adjacent to the Christiansted farmer’s market, making the distance between farm-to-table a mere matter of steps.
Chef Stridiron is careful to make the most of every locally produced ingredient that lands in the balter kitchen. For example, a radish a local farmer has put so much time, energy and love into producing needs to be treated with respect. He strives to bring out the natural flavor of each vegetable complimented with seasonal Caribbean spices. Something as small as a yucca leaf is important to use to its fullest potential. For example, the University of the Virgin Islands recently gave balter 50 pounds of peppers. Obviously more than they could use fresh. So Chef Stridiron began pickling them in jars. Currently viewable in the main dining room of balter are dated glass jars pickling peppers in various ways. The smell promises spice and flavor once they’re finished.
St. Croix is a close-knit community that supports small businesses like balter. When you’re ready to make the big island your home, contact Chris and Kerri Hanley to help you find the perfect house or condo. As the top broker on-island year after year, Chris is the authority on Virgin Islands real estate. Contact them today and download their free St. Croix event guide.