Tour Nostrand Avenue’s Storied Caribbean Food Scene

Caribbean restaurants and shops have opened up all around Crown Heights, centered on busy Nostrand Avenue. The seven businesses below focus on everything from the Rastafari Ital diet to Trinidadian-Chinese fare, providing a glimpse of the wide range of West Indian cuisine the neighborhood has to offer.

The facade of Gloria’s is bright enough to draw attention from three blocks away, but the inside is comparatively understated. Orders at this small Trinidadian eatery are placed through a window to the prep kitchen; there are several high-top tables available for seating, but most people take their food to go. The customers include families and many loyal regulars.

The recipes haven’t changed much since Gloria Wilson opened the restaurant on Nostrand Avenue and Empire Boulevard 43 years ago, but the menu has expanded with new dinner options and sides. The specialty here is roti, but doubles, oxtail dishes, and jerk chicken are all popular orders.

Under the watchful eye of Gloria’s grandson, Bryan Cumberbatch, everything stays true to her original vision, but a few changes have been made to accommodate American palates. Although the ingredients are the same — some speciality items from nearby vendors and some shipped in from the Caribbean — the portions are bigger, and the dishes aren’t as spicy as they once were. Madeline Muzzi

Trinidad Golden Place Restaurant

788 Nostrand Avenue

It’s not uncommon for waits to top 30 minutes at Trinidad Golden Place, a Nostrand Avenue restaurant and bakery specializing in Trinidadian-Chinese food. This particular breed of fusion fare dates back to the 19th century, when Trinidad was under British colonial rule. After the British outlawed African slavery in the early 1800s, they still needed workers to harvest crops like sugarcane. A wave of Chinese immigrants, brought over as indentured servants, filled the gap. Their cooking made its way into the culture, and is now manifested in dishes like lo mein, fried rice, and shrimp wontons on the menu at Trinidad Golden Place.

One of the most popular of those dishes here is the “house special,” a heaping combination of lo mein, fried rice, chow mein, and a well-sauced quarter chicken. Another item, doubles — curried chickpeas sandwiched between two fried flatbreads — make a satisfying snack for $1.50 apiece. There are also well-stuffed rotis and dinners of stewed oxtail or goat. For dessert, do not overlook the vast array of fresh baked goods, from hefty squares of bread pudding and scone-like coconut drops to slices of the ever-popular currant roll. Marguerite Preston

Cock's Bajan Restaurant and Bakery

806 Nostrand Avenue

Cock’s Bajan Restaurant & Bakery sits on a lively strip of Nostrand Avenue between Lincoln Place and St. Johns Place. Like much of Nostrand Avenue, the block reflects the story of today’s Crown Heights, with institutions that have been around for over a decade, such as Cock’s, joined by newer businesses like boutique taco spots that have opened over the past year or so.

The inside of Cock’s is spare — three tables with three chairs each — though still larger than most of the other, countertop restaurants in the area. Photos of politicians and images of Barbados hang on the walls (Bajan means Barbadian), along with some posters marketing local events and businesses up in the front of the restaurant. You can hear the radiator rattling and television commercials floating in from the kitchen in the back when it’s quiet. There’s a pastry case with turnovers and sugar cakes, and a couple of shelves stocked with imported goods — margarine, pepper sauces, drinks, crackers, and other snacks — for sale.

The cou-cou with fish is a specialty of the house, and one of the most beloved dishes in Barbados — some even call it the national dish. Fried fish sits atop a mass of soft and glutinous cornmeal porridge, a meal in and of itself. Jackie Goldstein

Joy & Snook is a Guyanese restaurant and bakery serving traditional dishes and snacks from the small nation on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. On a strip of Nostrand Avenue packed with Caribbean restaurants, the only details that distinguish the orange corner storefront from its Trini and Jamaican neighbors are the Guyanese flag and the words “GT Style” (for Georgetown, Guyana’s capital), displayed on the awning outside.

There is no menu displayed, and none of the food is labeled, so the staff helps diners choose from among the heartily spiced curries and whole fried fish. Not to miss is the cook-up rice, a one-pot staple of Guyanese cuisine made here from seasoned rice, yellow split peas, coconut, and shredded beef; the coconut is fragrant and just enough sweetness comes through in the savory dish to make it ideal alongside a spicier curry.

Two pastry cases contain Joy & Snook’s baked goods , both stocked with sweet and savory goods of all shapes and stuffings. A favorite is the three-pointed pine tart, filled with sweet pineapple jam; it’s flaky, buttery, and costs just a dollar. Kendra Vaculin

Original Vegetarian and Seafood Restaurant

In a dark, narrow storefront on Nostrand Avenue sits Original Vegetarian and Seafood Restaurant, one of Crown Heights’ long-standing Ital establishments. Adherence to the Ital diet (a name derived from the word “vital”) is a Rastafarian spiritual practice, meant to increase the Livity, or life-force, flowing through all living things. Though its rules vary in strictness from person to person, it usually means eating mostly, if not entirely, vegan, and eschewing processed foods and artificial additives, sometimes even salt and oil.

Some versions of the Ital diet allow fish, as long as it’s not shellfish and as long as it’s under 12 inches. Such is the case, clearly, at Original Vegetarian and Seafood, where the options might include saltfish stewed with sweet peppers and tomatoes, or a whole snapper dinner with sides. There’s no menu posted here, just a small steam table behind a glass partition at the back of the restaurant, some pots bubbling away on a stove beyond that. People mix and match (or ask for a little bit of everything).

Pair starchy boiled green bananas or white sweet potato with lentils and spinach-like callaloo, or go for a block of the restaurant’s vegan mac and cheese (made with soy cheese). Just be aware that, though oil isn’t strictly off limits here, salt most definitely is — except, of course, in dishes made with saltfish. Marguerite Preston

Veggies Natural Juice Bar

785 Franklin Avenue

Veggies Natural Juice Bar sits a couple blocks out from busy Eastern Parkway on Franklin Avenue and offers over 30 smoothies and juices. There are all the standard fruit and vegetable combinations, including customer favorites like the brownie (named for its color and containing strawberry, blueberry, mango, kale, spinach) and the stew smoothie (spinach, banana, ginger, honey, vanilla, kale, and soy or almond milk).

It’s not stated outright anywhere in the shop but the menu is aligned with the Ital diet: a set of food-based principles with a focus on clean living. Many of the drinks suggest health benefits through names like “body cleanser,” “blood regenerator,” and the garlicky, deep orange “cold killa.”

Nearby, there’s a second outpost of the cafe — farther up Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy — that serves breakfast and lunch and offers delivery, but the Franklin Ave. original sells only the juices and smoothies, along with a small selection of muffins (flavors range from berry to mixed vegetable) and hot patties, most of which are vegetarian. Once cash only, the shop now accepts credit cards, and owner Jahman McKenzie and the staff are quick to help with recommendations for anyone who needs help navigating the abundance of options. Sonia Chopra

For 10 years, Labay Market has been the go-to place for homesick West Indians longing for a taste of home. Brooklyn residents flock to the market for fish and fruit, like tamarind, mangoes, coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, and the prickly yet sweet soursop. There’s no shortage of greens, ranging from dasheen bush (taro leaves) to bok choy. Also in abundance are roots and tubers like ginger, eddoes (similar to taro), yams, and potatoes, plus a colorful assortment of dried flowers, bark, and spices used to make refreshing drinks like sorrel and mauby, found in many West Indian homes.

At Labay, you might also notice the owner, Big Mac, a big buy with a big heart. Most of the produce in Labay Market is imported from the 60-acre farm he owns in Grenada. Ensuring employment for those back home and in his Brooklyn-based shop is no small feat. Yet Big Mac perseveres; he’s committed to providing fresh, healthy food for the neighborhood. Janelle Carter-Small

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