The Maya Beach Hotel & Bistro
Stann Creek, Belize, 2015
by Casey & Carolyn Caughie
Interview with Carolyn and Casey Caughie. Reproduced from Travel Tales Collections, Food & Drink, No. 7, February 2015, by Michael Brein.
[Michael] Let’s talk about your fantastic experience in Belize. When did you go?
[Casey] We went in January of just this year. We were looking for a place just to get away to quickly, to get some sun. We’ll typically go to Cabo or go down to Cozumel. We decided on a beautiful stretch of beach in Belize.
So we started out without direct flights to Cozumel. You have to go to Houston. If you have to go to Houston, you’ll need two-and-a-half hours more to get down to Belize. And so the light bulb went off . . . “Hey, let’s go check that out!” So that’s how we got headed down that way to go down for a week of sunshine, be able to check out the beach, and get some diving time in.
[Michael] Carolyn, you like to—you say—research a place first. Did you do any research on this?
[Carolyn] Yeah, I was looking for a place that always satisfies my requirements: a little bit of sun, not too touristy, and that it has good food.
So I found a place on TripAdvisor. It lists that it was kind of remote, and it got great reviews, but what I was really interested in was that the reviews of the restaurant were just unbelievable.
[Michael] For example?
Well, I mean in terms of the reviews, everybody just kept saying that this is the best food you’ll ever eat! How good is that? And then I started researching the restaurant itself on the Internet; it’s just a little bistro on the beach.
[Michael] What’s the name of it?
It’s called the ‘Maya Beach Bistro.’ It’s connected to the Maya Beach Hotel, where we were kind of looking at staying at. A very small place . . . like only eight rooms. So then the Bistro is attached to that. And the more I researched it I discovered that it won a couple of awards as the best restaurant in Belize. So that sort of sealed the deal, and I said, “Okay, we’re staying there!” It doesn’t get any better than that!
[Casey] Yeah. Then she [Carolyn] showed me online what the menu was, and that got me excited for the food down there, too, as well as just getting away to somewhere we could get some sunshine as well.
[Michael] So this doesn’t sound like an ordinary food experience of a place that you might by chance run into on a trip, huh? This sounds almost like a Michelin three-star outpost in the middle of the Carib-bean!
[Carolyn] Yeah, apparently this man from Finland and this woman from America met and they made some money, and they decided to open this restaurant and hotel in Belize. The man was a really good chef. And they hired another really good chef as well, and slowly, but steadily, mainly by word of mouth, the reputation of the Bistro started spreading.
What’s funny is that I’ve never been to a place where basically you would meet somebody, and as soon as you got out the first, you know, “Where are you from?” (that would be, you know, your first question when you meet someone, “Where are you from?”) you’d find out where they were from, and the next question would be, “Have you eaten THIS yet?” Or, “What did you have for dinner last night?” Or, “Did you try this for breakfast? You HAVE to have this!” and so on.
So, every conversation you would have with anyone, whether at the beach or at the swimming pool or at the bar was, “What are you eating?”
[Michael] What I think is terrific about that is because in traveling in Third World countries like I used to do a lot—and you [the Caughies] have done some of that as well—one of the typical morning topics of conversation is, “Did you have a good dump this morning?” Or, “Did, you have diarrhea again? Did you drink the water?” It was all this crap, literally and figuratively, and here it’s all about food! That’s fantastic.
[Michael] Was this a dream type of place for food?
[Casey] Well, you know, it was a nice surprise to find a world-class dining establishment down there in remote Belize and to find it’s right there where we’re staying, too, and having looked at the menu and then going down there and trying the first meal and then getting all excited about it.
Of course, there were other fun things to do down there besides the food, but that was very cool, and the staff was was super, too; they were always very friendly. That always makes the guest experience that much better. It’s hard not to like the fact that you’ve got an open-air warm place to sit and look out at the gazebo, that’s out on a dock, over the water with the lights on that are reflecting down on the water. And that just makes for a great atmosphere as well. And that’s important to that experience, I think.
[Michael] For dinner. Were there group tables? Could use sit with other people? Or did you all always sit by yourselves, more or less?
[Carolyn] We would sit by ourselves, but it was such a small resort, that you would know people and would stop at their tables and you would say, “What are you eating?” And you would look at their food, and they would say, “What are YOU eating?” And on and on.
It would just get funny because the waiters would bring out food and everybody would crane their necks to see what that was and what it looked like, and so on, and the waiters would show you and you’d laugh and they’d say, “This is this such and such.”
I know we met some people and ate with them eventually later on in the week.
[Michael] Alright, let’s hear a little bit about the meal experiences. Is it fair to say that you ‘lived to eat’ as opposed to ‘ate to live’ in that environment?
[Carolyn] Well, it was funny because we would dive all day or go and explore and we would just be talking on the way back, “What are you going to eat on the menu tonight?” You know, the next fun thing . . .
When we went down there we assumed that we would be eating at different places, different nights. There were obviously some other good restaurants and everybody talked about the good food down there.
But we didn’t want to eat anywhere else (laughs)! Our goal was to get through the menu, which we never quite managed to do.
[Michael] Were some of these other places empty?
[Casey] Yes, some of the other places were fairly empty in compari-son to the Bistro, but that varied a little bit, too. For instance, we went down to the ‘Mangoes Bar’ to watch the Seattle Seahawks play the Green Bay Packers one day, and we had nice hors d’oeuvres down there and some drinks, and Frank, the proprietor, served up some good food and some of the expats were down there, too, get-ting dinner, and some of that fried chicken looked pretty good with the mashed potatoes, as well, that was served up at ‘Mangoes,’ but, it was back to the Bistro, of course, for us for a serious meal!
Yeah, you’d get your favorites, but the interesting thing was that you’d taste something new, even though I had my favorites, yet the exploration of what’s next on the menu was always the exciting challenge.
[Michael] Let’s hear about what your breakfast or lunch or dinner experience was like. What was breakfast like?
[Casey] We showed you a picture of the shrimp and grits—that kind of blew us away, because you’re not quite sure what you’re going to order, and when you get something like that, it was simply fantastic . . . and just the way they prepare it. For breakfast, the menu can vary from an egg kind of dish, but they always seemed to put a unique spice and a flavor to it that got your attention.
[Michael] Carolyn, do you have any breakfast comments?
[Carolyn] Yeah, we’re not usually huge breakfast people because we are off doing adventures, so we’d have sometimes maybe just a homemade cinnamon roll, and even those, you know, we’d comment, that you’d order a hot cinnamon roll and just the way they put all the sort of frosting on top, and you could decide how much topping you wanted instead of it having it be like ‘this is what we do’ . . . So it’d be anything from like a cinnamon roll, like a coconut muffin, to some-thing like the shrimp and grits with eggs and toast and fruit . . . It was always fantastic!
But mostly we ate dinner there (laughs); dinner was the big event.
[Michael] Okay, let’s talk about dinner.
[Casey] About the dinner . . . my favorite was—and this will sound funny—but it was a toasted cheese sandwich, but it had lobster in it and it came with an au jus next to it, in a bowl, that I just assumed you dipped your sandwich in, and because what else did you do with soup when you have a toasted cheese sandwich?
It was a vegetable dip [Carolyn]
It was a vegetable dip? Okay [Casey]
It was excellent, and that one did get a repeat performance before I left.
[Michael] Isn’t it hard when you discover a favorite to try something new because you love the favorites so much?
[Carolyn] It was, like I had the seafood coconut chowder, which was really, really good. But everything was good . . . I guess you learned to trust the chef. So, in other words, every night they would have a special, I was just always on board trying the special, because you weren’t going to be disappointed. And I think that’s so rare, that a lot of times at restaurants I don’t want to try something else, because I worry that it’s not going to be good, and I’m not going to like it, but at the Bistro you never heard anybody say that they didn’t like something, so it made the exploring so much more fun.
[Casey] I’d say that it made it safe; you could try things without the fear of it disappointing.
[Michael] What motivates a good chef like that to go out to the middle of nowhere and do, I’d say, like a three-star, four-star res-taurant? What motivates somebody like that? Did you ever get an answer?
[Carolyn] We talked to the owner, and I think they’d just been a high power couple for a long time and made a lot of money and felt really burnt out, and they just had traveled a lot, also. and kind of had an idea in their heads of what they would like when they traveled, and so it started from that.
I think the Bistro reputation sort of kept building, because they started with it as, I think, more of a hotel with these few rooms on the beach, and the Bistro, now, is definitely the more popular thing than as a place to stay, per se.
[Michael] Would you say this has been one of the best dining experiences you’ve ever had in your travels?
[Casey] I would say it’s right up there, sure. It’s up at the top. How-ever, there’s ‘foodie’ places you can always go to that will go above that, but for traveling, I would say, yes, as a single place to go to as a destination, definitely.
[Michael] Any final comments? Anything more you want to say about the Bistro?
[Casey] It was a fun place to stay; we were very active, so we could feel good about eating the extra calories, and that’s always good, too, so that when you go to a place and you can be active all day, then I think you appreciate the food that much more when you come home back to the hotel as your home away from home.