Cocobreeze Caribbean Restaurant in Oakland Serves Up Bargains and Serious Spices

Cocobreeze, a small Caribbean restaurant in Oakland that opened during the pandemic, aims to create a home for its community, with affordable food and healthy options.

But that doesn’t mean changing recipes or lowering spice levels to make someone more comfortable, as I learned when I tried incredibly hot Bandiana pepper sauce inside doubles stuffed with chickpea curry, a Trinidadian favorite of turmeric-tinged deep-fried batter ($5). If you just want to test the waters, I suggest ordering a side of the sauce ($1) and dipping your little finger in the mix, which may be enough to make you cough.

“I haven’t changed my food to suit anyone,” chef Annabelle Goodridge, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, told me over the phone. “I kept it as simple Caribbean cuisine.”

At Cocobreeze, Goodridge exclusively uses three hot peppers: Scotch bonnets, habaneros and cocos – the latter being the hottest pepper in Trinidad and Tobago. Bandiana pepper sauce blends all three together. Luckily, Goodrige also serves up a great side of Creole rice with sweet red beans, full of fresh thyme flavor and coconut sweetness, which serves as a reset if you’re overwhelmed by the heat.

Chef Annabelle Goodridge, of the Cocobreeze Caribbean restaurant in Oakland, frys the batter in the kitchen.

Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

Goodridge has been in this community for a long time. She moved to the United States in 1978, and in the late 1990s opened Labelle’s restaurant in Berkeley, which helped put her children through college. She took a break for a few years before her daughter Merissa convinced her to get into corporate catering, which was doing well until the pandemic.

Cocobreeze Caribbean Restaurant

Address: 2370 High Street, Oakland.

Hours: 11am-8pm Wednesday, Friday-Saturday.

Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible.

Noise level: Moderate to strong.

Meal for two, excluding drinks: $25 to $60.

What to order: Doubles ($5), Saltfish Fritters ($5), Oxtails with Creole Rice ($22), Four Course Menu ($60), Jerk Chicken Sandwich ($12), Jerk Chicken with Creole Rice ($18 $).

Meatless options: spicy doubles ($5), callaloo ($5)

Drinks : Caribbean drinks ($5-10) and fruit juices ($5-6).

Best practices: Order a four-course meal to get a taste of the breadth of the menu.

With catering halted and travel nearly impossible, Goodridge opened Cocobreeze to bring a bit of the islands to Oakland. Soca or steel pan music plays outside the bustling restaurant, filling the air with vibrant sound as Caribbean island flags flutter in the wind.

Goodridge and her daughter wanted Cocobreeze to welcome their neighbors with affordable, fresh and health-conscious meals, including plenty of vegan options. The result is a ready-to-go and delivery menu at an incredible price.

One example: Goodridge’s $60 four-course meal for two, which includes an appetizer, main course, drink and dessert. This is how I first tried Cocobreeze and was amazed at the value you get for around $30 per person.

Entrees include Trinidadian specialties like doubles, which are about the size of a taco and are stuffed with chana (chickpea curry) and cucumber chutney. You can request it sweet with mango chutney, or spicy loaded with various spicy chutneys and hot sauce like Bandiana pepper sauce.

Other apps are saltfish fritters ($5), crispy fried orbs with a spongy center, or flaky Jamaican patties ($5) with spiced beef or chicken curry; they both work well with the sweet tamarind dip.

The tables in front of Cocobreeze in Oakland offer an easy meal.

The tables in front of Cocobreeze in Oakland offer an easy meal.

Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

Don’t skip the sides. The Comforting Macaroni Pie ($5) is baked macaroni and cheese with a crisp cheese crust. Callaloo ($5), a creamy vegan stew from Trinidad and Tobago, mixes dasheen bush (its large leaves look like spinach), okra and coconut milk. The version at Cocobreeze is rich and herbaceous, like the best parts of a broccoli and cheddar soup. It’s cozy, ideal for the colder months when you need a cuddle of soup.

Starters are substantial and each comes with rice and sweet plantains. Extensive use of herbs and spices makes the Tangy, Lightly Smoked Jerk Chicken ($18) more flavorful than spicy. Pour concentrated chicken jus over rice for a quick flavor infusion.

Heat isn’t the only option at Cocobreeze. The oxtails ($22 a plate) are chewier, spicy, and fragrant with smells of burnt sugar and cinnamon. You will find yourself cleaning the bones from tender, fatty meat. The Jerk Chicken Sandwich ($12) turns down the heat and reconfigures the jerk marinade into a sweet, herbal, and peppery barbecue sauce.

Most Goodridge menus offer vegan alternatives. Some of them, like the jackfruit curry, didn’t have the same flavor following that I found in its chicken counterpart. Still, it’s admirable that Goodridge makes room for different dietary needs.

Many customers search for Cocobreeze because dishes like doubles can be hard to find. She says many of her customers come straight from the airport just to try her food.

An array of dishes at Cocobreeze, a small Caribbean restaurant in Oakland that offers many Trinidad and Tobago favorites.

An array of dishes at Cocobreeze, a small Caribbean restaurant in Oakland that offers many Trinidad and Tobago favorites.

Yalonda M. James/The Chronicle

Restaurant opening hours are limited and only operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The interior is small, usually with enough room for a few guests to place orders. There is no indoor dining area; a few places are available in front of the building. Despite its small size, Goodridge makes great use of the Cocobreeze space, offering it to the community to host events like birthday parties and front weddings.

Cocobreeze is a restaurant that is more than a restaurant. Goodridge is involved in many local programs and organizations that serve community needs, whether it’s providing meals for incarcerated women or the homeless population, or working with youth programs like Youth Employment Partnership to provide teens with work experience and training. Goodridge and her daughter believe in access to good, affordable food and offer several options under $6, such as superfood juices with sea moss, doubles, Pholourie (fried split pea dumplings ), donuts and a macaroni pie.

People, Goodridge told me, are what matter most. They bring him joy. “I like people. When people come, it makes me feel really, really good.

And in his melodious and energetic restaurant, those good vibes are contagious.

Cesar Hernandez is the associate food critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @cesarischafa

Michael M. Tomlin