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When Taste of Haiti, Denver’s only Haitian restaurant, closed in 2019, Farah-Jane Jean Pierre took the matter—and batter—into her own hands. Using the culinary degree she earned in New Jersey after immigrating there in 2010, Jean Pierre started perfecting recipes for comfort foods from her home country in her own kitchen, eventually selling them at pop-ups in 2021. Fritay Haitian Cuisine, which evolved into a food truck a few months later, specializes in fritay (pronounced “free-tie”), an assortment of fried foods popular in the island nation. “There’s a vendor at every corner in Port-au-Prince,” says Jean Pierre, who owns the business with her husband, François Zannou. After taking a break at the end of 2022 to welcome their first child, the couple is back on the road slinging, among other items, these signature specialties.
With a name derived from the French word for spice, epis is the flavor foundation of Haitian cuisine, and each household’s recipe for the earthy, savory seasoning paste is slightly different. Jean Pierre’s version (passed down by her mother) blends classic ingredients such as green bell peppers, parsley, thyme, onion, and garlic and gets added flair from tomato and ginger.
Jean Pierre makes griot—a fried meat often considered Haiti’s national dish—by marinating cubes of pork shoulder in vinegar, lime, and sour orange juice seasoned with habanero pepper and epis. Then she boils the whole mixture to partially cook and tenderize the meat and browns the griot to order before sprinkling it over equally crispy in-house fries. The entire affair is topped with pikliz, pickled red onion, and Jean Pierre’s secret-recipe, Creole-inspired mayo.
A ubiquitous Haitian condiment, pikliz is a simple preparation of shredded cabbage, carrots, and hot peppers pickled in lime, vinegar, and salt. Like many other Caribbean dishes, it traditionally uses Scotch bonnet chiles, which Jean Pierre says are impossible to find in Denver, so she replaces them with less spicy habaneros and ups the proportion of peppers. In addition to using pikliz as a topping, Fritay sells eight-ounce to-go containers, but beware: It gets spicier the longer it sits.
These savory fritters are made from a basic flour-and-water batter flavored with parsley, onion and garlic powders, and a bit of epis. Unlike hushpuppies and other similarly sized treats, Jean Pierre’s marinad have a thick, crunchy exterior due to being fried at an extra-hot temperature, which means they are less likely to get soggy after cooling off.
Besides scaling and cleaning the inside, Jean Pierre does little to prep her lime-and-epis-seasoned whole red snapper. The crisp-skinned fish comes with rice and beans, Haitian-style macaroni salad, plantains, pikliz, and a tomato-based gravy sauce, and Jean Pierre leaves it up to you to pick the tender flesh off its spine—with a fork or your bare hands.