German-style dining in Cayman

This eatery has no roof, no walls. You can’t even order food.

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Published in Cayman Airways Skies

Just listening to Chef Roland Schoefer for a few minutes is a sure-fire way to make anyone’s stomach growl. With dramatic gestures and flair, he’ll explain — in his distinct German accent — the cheeses, spices and sauces that he incorporates into his delightful dishes.

When you dine at his popular establishment, Roland’s Garden, he’ll pop out of the kitchen with German specialties ranging from bratwurst to sauerbraten to pork chops. Depending on Roland’s mood, you may get thoughtfully prepared scallops wrapped in bacon, homemade bread, gravlax or beef stroganoff. For dessert, he might serve up coconut rum cake or, perhaps, tastes of chocolate mousse, pineapple pound cake and chocolate cake.

That’s just how he operates. Roland’s Garden has been a local favourite for years. In fact, it’s known as one of Cayman’s top restaurants. But it’s not a restaurant. At Roland’s Garden, there is no menu, no roof and no walls. You can’t even order food.

That’s the way Roland, the peppery and lovable 68-year-old foodie, likes it. His restaurant doesn’t even look like a restaurant. Walk in and you’ll swear you’ve arrived at someone’s cosy home. The front desk area is modelled after the living room from Roland’s house in the East End. Think antique collectables, framed photographs of family and friends, and oil lamps creating an inviting atmosphere.

In the garden, a 17-year-old mutt named Sir Alex wanders among the 10 rustic wooden tables (handmade tree cuts Roland carved 25 years ago). A paved barbecue-style space sits in the corner, and geckos jump to and fro.

To fully appreciate Roland’s Garden, you must first understand the chef. He’s a lanky fellow who grew up in Heidelberg, Germany, where he owned restaurants and nightclubs before cooking his way through Canada and California. In 1982, he moved to the Cayman Islands to work at the Galleon Beach Hotel.

He later opened Captain Morgan’s Steakhouse in George Town and the hugely popular Lighthouse Club in Breakers, which people still talk about today. With his diverse experience, it comes as no surprise that he has turned his culinary know-how into an über-successful career. Even more impressive, Roland has repeat customers who have followed him for the past 23 years.

In 2003, Roland retired from professional cooking and since then has been running the more laid-back Roland’s Garden. The idea was born before Hurricane Ivan hit in 2004, when Roland welcomed friends into his home, and they dined together in his backyard. “There was no liquor license; it was BYOB, and it was not a real business,” says his 34-year-old son, Julian, who runs the eatery with his dad.

“He just said ‘Leave some money on the table.’ We continue this concept, leaving it up to our guests to pay a fair price for a five- to six-course dinner and a truly unique night out.”

It’s true: you won’t see a bill at Roland’s Garden. Instead, you pay what you think the meal was worth and leave the money with Roland or Julian on the way out. Also, you’ll only be dining with a dozen or so other people; Roland likes to keep the experience personal. On that note, reservations are a must. However, if you have an occasion to celebrate, they can arrange special bookings for up to 40 people.

The restaurant that is not a restaurant is now considered a culinary institution. You’ll find it on the former Butterfly Farm on Lawrence Boulevard near Seven Mile Beach. Bring your own wine or beer, or belly up to Roland’s Beer Garden for a CayBrew or Hoegaarden, a Belgian wheat beer. You may not know what you’ll get to eat here, but you can expect a full belly and a smile from ear to ear.

If you go:
Roland’s Garden, 52 Lawrence Blvd., Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, www.rolandsgarden.com, (345) 946-2500. Roland’s Garden is open Tue-Sun, dinner reservations between 6-8 p.m. The Beer Garden is open Tue-Sun from 4-11 p.m. No reservations needed at the beer bar, and you can choose from a small menu of German food.