A Walk Through the West Indies, Via Crown Heights. Restaurants, Part 2.
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"][/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"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_161" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="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."][/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"][/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"][/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"][/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! ~~~
Previous post: Casserole Crazy!! (Wait, What?)