A Walk Through the West Indies, Via Crown Heights. Restaurants, Part 2.

by Emily on January 4, 2010 · 17 comments

in Restaurants

Hello there! Happy 2010. I hope the holiday season was good to all of you. It was a good chance for me to decompress and also to get my next post up to share with you here. Since it's been several months since we last covered the West Indian food scene in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, please feel free to take a few minutes to re-read the first post here: http://bit.ly/MOTBWI1 [caption id="attachment_168" align="alignright" width="375" caption="Nio's Trinidad Roti House & Seafood Shack"]Nio's Trinidad Roti House & Seafood Shack[/caption] On my second trip to the neighborhood, I spent the day checking out a few more down-home spots getting better acquainted with different foods and flavor combinations. This is part one of two posts on that trip. You can comment on and add spots to a map of the Mouth of the Border places, and see what other places I'm writing about by clicking the map (click through to view the map if you're viewing this in a reader). Click here to see Mouth of the Border places. Here's where I went on my second trip to the neighborhood, along with the relevant contact info and nearest subway stop. This post will cover the first two stops of the trip, and the next post will cover the final three. Nio's Trinidad Roti House & Seafood Shack (Trinidadian) 718 287 9848 2702 Church Ave at Rogers Ave. (2/5 at Church) Sybil’s Bakery and Restaurant (Guyanese) 718 469-9049 2210 Church Street between Flatbush and Bedford Avenue (Q at Church) Errol’s Bakery and Catering (Jamaican) 718 469 6078 661 Flatbush Avenue at Hawthorne Street (Q at Parkside Avenue) Ali’s Roti Shop (Trinidadian) 718 462 1730 589 Flatbush Avenue between Midwood Street and Rutland Road (B/Q at Prospect Park or Q Parkside Ave.) Peppa's Jerk Chicken (Jamaican) 347 712 9341‎ 738 Flatbush Avenue between Woodruff and Parkside Avenues (2/5 at Winthrop or Q Parkside Avenue) First Stop Nio's Trinidad Roti House & Seafood Shack [caption id="attachment_160" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Nio's Trinidad Roti Shop"]Nio's Trinidad Roti Shop[/caption] [caption id="attachment_161" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Part of the menu at Nio's"]Part of the menu at Nio's[/caption] What I Ate: Shrimp roti Doubles Obviously, the focus for my first stop of the day was the roti. Before I dive into that, though, here's some quick background on roti. Roti refers to both the bread used for this type of sandwich and the sandwich itself. Roti is an Indian flatbread that can be made with a variety of flours and sometimes butter. It's usually cooked on a flat pan called a tawah. The flatbread is similar to a tortilla, but the roti breads I've eaten have been thicker. It's also used in meals thought the day. For instance, it can be baked, roasted or fried and served for breakfast or along with another meal. Then it's called "bake," not roti. My friend and former roommate was telling me a little bit about the meals her family makes at home once when I was quizzing her on West Indian food. (She is from Trinidad.) She was talking about bake and I couldn't stop giggling especially when she was talking about baked bake. To compare roti with a food that would be more familiar to most of you, I would say you could compare it to a burrito. Rotis are filled with meat or vegetable-based stews mixed with chunks of potato or chickpeas. Based on the filling, roti can be referred to by a number of names in West Indian eateries. Here at Nio's, they were serving up eight kinds of roti. Listed on the menu (pictured above) are the choices: Channa (chickpea) and potato, chicken, vegetable, beef, goat, shrimp, oxtail and fish. I ordered a shrimp roti and doubles (I spoke more about doubles in my last post here http://bit.ly/MOTBWI1). Since my first experience with doubles was subpar, I had high hopes for this one. [caption id="attachment_162" align="aligncenter" width="615" caption="Food at Nio's: Shrimp roti on the left, doubles on the right."]Food at Nio's: Shrimp roti on the left, doubles on the right.[/caption] As I waited for my food to be prepared, I looked around the joint a little bit. As I discussed in my first post on the neighborhood, most of the eateries in Crown Heights are very casual. Some don't have seating available . . . customers will order their food to take out and then bring it home to eat with family and friends. Nio's follows the style of most places in the neighborhood; small interior, half a dozen tables. At this time of the afternoon about half of them were filled with gentlemen enjoying leisurely meals. I took some time to check out the rest of the menu. They had snacks listed like alloo pie (fried dough filled with spicy potatoes and onions) as well as several West Indian drinks like mauby and sorrel (both herb-based drinks). After taking in the sights and menu, my food was ready. I tucked into the doubles first, since I was so anxious to have a good report for all of my West Indian friends who had recommended them. I had heard they were really more of a street food usually served from lunch trucks or at festivals, but I figured a place that was a bit busy at lunchtime might churn them out at a pretty good pace and I'd have a better chance of getting one that was hot and fresh. Nio's did not disappoint. My doubles was indeed just fried and since it was so toasty warm, the filling inside was really delicious. The chickpea stuffing was well-seasoned and just the right consistency . . . not too runny or soup-like, but not so chunky from the chickpeas that it felt overly filling. After that, I turned my attention to my first roti. The shrimp filling was just stellar, lightly spicy with curry sauce and a good amount of tingle from the garlic and onions. There were good-sized chunks of tomato. It was a huge roti stuffed to the gills with filling. If I weren't set up for a day of eating, I would have tried harder to finish it. As it was, I made it through half and considered that a good showing. I would heartily recommend a stop at Nio's if you're in the neighborhood. I'm looking forward to going back and trying the veggie roti, as I've heard great things about it. Second stop Sybil’s Bakery and Restaurant [caption id="attachment_171" align="aligncenter" width="375" caption="Hot Buffet at Sybil's"]Hot Buffet at Sybil's[/caption] What I ate: Chinese cake Coconut roll Sybil's is actually one of the more formal restaurants in the area. It's spacious and bright with plenty of seating inside and is a combination of a large buffet spread and traditional bakery. The buffet has all manner of Guyanese and West Indian hot dishes, ranging from stewed and fried meats, rice and noodle dishes and all manner of root vegetables prepared in several different ways. Since I was coming off of my roti meal, I wasn't quite ready for the warm buffet, so I instead checked out the bakery side of things. Unfortunately, the one thing I ate during all of my trips out to Crown Heights that I did not enjoy at all was the Chinese cake that I picked up at Sybil's. [caption id="attachment_172" align="aligncenter" width="375" caption="Chinese cake from Sybil's"]Chinese cake from Sybil's[/caption] Like any sort of cake recipe, the types and preparations of Chinese cake varies widely from family to family and from country to country. The one I had was made with a black bean filling. It's a sweet, so the pastry was flaky and sugary and the interior was also quite sweet. I was just overwhelmed with how sugary it was. It tasted almost saccharine. It was also very sticky. I just didn't like it. It was the first (and only) one I've ever had, so I can't say whether or not it's good or bad compared to other cakes like this. The other goody I picked up here was a coconut roll, which was actually a slice, not a roll. The use of slice versus roll for so many different pastries makes ordering things at West Indian bakeries difficult for me. [caption id="attachment_163" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Coconut roll from Sybil's"]Coconut roll from Sybil's[/caption] The coconut roll completely redeemed Sybil's for me. The roll was delicately flaky and those little hunks of slivered coconut were just woven throughout the pastry. The layering of pastry and coconut was like a cross between a croissant and baklava. In short, it was a little roll (slice) of heaven. I think you could get by with eating half of one of these with a nice strong cup of coffee. Now that you've visited two places with me, this concludes part one of my second trip to the Crown Heights neighborhood. It was great enjoying my first roti, coconut roll and Chinese cake. Trying out roti was especially exciting since that's one food that my West Indian friends love and look forward to eating. They often get into spirited debates on which spot makes the best roti. Coming up next, we'll visit another roti spot and another bakery for comparison. What are your thoughts on roti and West Indian baked goods? If you've never had roti, do you think you'd try it? If you have eaten roti, where is your favorite spot to get them? What kind do you like best? ~~~ If you enjoyed this post please comment, subscribe, tell your friends on Facebook, or comment on Twitter using hashtag #MOTB. Also, if you like the site, join the discussion on the Facebook fan page. Thank you! ~~~
  • Timothyas

    well, im from America, and my aprents are from guyana, and Ive tried chinese cake before, and i fell into it, and your right, “preparations of Chinese cake varies widely from family to family and from country to country” because the ones that I have eaten arent sticky and have alot of sugar, but yes indeed, the crust is very flaky and thin, but overall it taste very good, and goes down best with water, but not everyone has the same views.

    And ive been to “Nio’s Trinidad Roti House & Seafood Shack” with my father plenty of times, i mostly go there for their doubles and polouri, in my opinion they have the best polouri. sadly to say Glorias polouri is mostly dough and not enough chick peas. But they have great roti skins. And, its 2 blocks away from my house, which is very convienient.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Thanks for your comment! I will definitely need to eat more polouri!

  • vitra

    Making my mouth water just reading all this….and I'm from Trini and eat this food everyday….LOL…you have to try curry duck with dalpuri. that should be your next Trini thing when you circle back around to the caribbean food region again :-)

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      I'm so excited you stopped by to read the site!! I loved loved loved
      the food and am looking forward to cooking it at home. Do you cook a

  • http://www.hellandheartaches.com Patricec

    Love It! As for Sybil's first time I'm hearing it called coconut roll, I always knew it as Coconut slice. I've never had the Chinese cake, but I dream of yellow cake from there on a regular basis.

    My love of bake and roti is borderline ridiculous. I haven't made it Nio's but anyplace with homemade peanut punch is worth a trip.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Wait for the next post, Patrice . . . even BETTER roti is coming up. See, that's the thing about roll vs. slice … I think it just depends on the country making the menu. I was just so confused. I was expecting something round and got something oblong instead (happens a lot).

      I want to make some breakfast bake soon based on what Zahra and Whitney told me about how they eat at home. Thank you for stopping by!

  • bsimi

    OMG can I have a coconut roll sent to my desk please?! Wow !
    Really nice post – every time I had a question in my head – you seemed to answer a few sentences later ;-)
    Cannot wait for more – your writing about food covers all the necessary points and makes me extremely hungry.
    Well Done!

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Extremely hungry? You're in luck. As you may know, I'm good at feeding people.

      Coconut rolls are the bomb and there are so many West Indian foods that are veggie-friendly! I hope to get more into those foods soon for you and my other veggie friends.

      Thank you, B. You rock.

  • http://sassunlimited.blogspot.com/ sassykeewee

    I have been trying to comment on theis post since 9 this morning. lol
    Ahem- Its interesting that part 2 of your trip through the west indies comes on the heels of me watching an episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives that featured Pam's Kitchen http://pams-kitchen.com/home/ in Seattle and she was making Roti. This was followed by an episode that featured a Puerto Rican restaurant in Miami Bemnny's Seafood and he was making mofongo, that made me miss my PR friends and their mom's cooking. That said seeing this post was a nice round up. *ahem* I am hoping PR cuisine is in the rotation for I dunno Spring/Summer MOTB.

    I have never had roti but watching Pam make it and your post makes me want to try it. I have oft been turned off by carribean food because anything with meat tends to have bones, and I cannot stand picking through my food. Much like clothes shopping I like it neat.

    keep on pushing love. there is world of food out there ready for the tasting.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Yay, K!!!! Yes, you have to try roti. If you can't do bones, I
      recommend channa or shrimp as the goat and chicken will have de bones.

      And yes, I am so excited to get into Puerto Rican cuisine, as that
      will take me into upper Manhattan and Queens. So much about food that
      I don't know. I'll never get tired of it. Thanks for the love again!!!

  • Zahra

    Great post, Em! I can't wait to read your post on Ali's, which is one of my favourite roti spots in Brooklyn. Shrimp roti isn't the most traditional (chicken, potato, and goat are some of the more popular ones at home) but it is still so good. I'm also glad you got some fresh doubles – always the best when they're very hot with plenty of tamarind sauce. Yum!

    In Trinidad, we have three main kinds of roti – dhalpuri (which is the kind of roti you discussed), paratha or “buss up shut” (which is a more buttery version that is served separately from the curry filling and is then used to scoop up the curry similarly to Ethiopian cuisine), and sada roti, which is mostly a breakfast staple. They are all cooked on a flat hot tablet called a talwah.

    The sada roti is the easiest one to make, which is why it's a common breakfast bread, which we often eat with vegetable mixtures (called chokas), most commonly tomato or eggplant (baigan). Sada rotis are often offered alongside fry bake and roast (baked) bake for breakfast bread choices. Although roti and bake are both types of bread, they are each their own category – although both equally delicious. :)

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Wow – great comment with so much info. Thanks, Z! I got the goat roti at Ali's which I will go into full detail on.

      Can you remind me sometime how the “buss up shut” roti got it's name?

      And now I'm interested in finding some different chokas to try out — thank you!

      • Zahra

        I have no idea how buss up shut roti originally got its name, although some say it comes from the appearance of the paratha, which looks like a “bust up shirt”…I don't know about that though.

  • Fiona

    The best doubles always have chutney added to them. What you need to look for in a roti is the dhaal puri (sp?) roti skin. Much much better in my opinion.

    Mauby is actually a syrup made from the bark of a tree….. and sorrell is made from the dried fruit of a sorrell bush.

    Have you tried pepperpot and jug jug yet? Both are Barbadian dished, traditionally served at Christmas.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      Fiona – I put a bunch of chutney on mine. You can't see it well in the picture, but that's what the orange-tinted sauce was. I love chutney and sauces.

      RE: pepperpot and jug jug, I haven't tried them yet. I really want to try pepperpot, though, and want to both eat it and try making it myself in the next month. Thanks for your comment!!

  • Tracey

    Some of these restaurants are just 7-10 blocks away from my apartment, but I've never tried any West Indian food because I've always (as you know) been nervous about the spicy factor. I was unaware of Sybil's and am now anxious to try a coconut roll! Doubles sound interesting, and it's good to know what all that roti that is sold in my neighborhood is all about. I'd still want a taste-tester with me, but this post has made me feel less anxious about what the foods are.

    • http://www.mouthoftheborder.com emilyspearl

      It is so rewarding to hear that you're learning about new places right under your nose because of this site. I thought the same thing . . . “I've been here a few times visiting Tracey and I had no idea that these were here!” So, it's been great having this outlet to get to dig into everything around me. It's one of the many reasons I love this work!

      I'll be your taste-tester, and we will have to have a heat-free curry experiment night soon.

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