By: Nicole Lewis
While Harlem and Bed-Stuy are best known for being home to a thriving African American community there are many ethnic groups who populate these two historic neighborhoods. Bed-Stuy, like Harlem and much of New York City, is a mash up of influences. Caribbean, African, African American, Latino, White-American, and European people have all come to live in this notable Brooklyn neighborhood.
Unlike Little Italy or Chinatown the fact that there are so many different ethnic groups living in one place has prevented Bed-Stuy from being dubbed Little Dakar or Little West Indies. Nevertheless, much like Chinatown and Little Italy you will find some of the best ethnic eats the city has to offer.
There so many well kept secrets when it comes to ethnic eats in Bed-Stuy. Some of the best meals I have had in my neighborhood have been from the hole-in-the-wall spots that specialize in making a few dishes the same way they have been making them for years. I first learned to appreciate hole-in-the-wall spots from my grandfather who took me to eat some of the best Peking duck I have ever had at a tiny four-table restaurant in DC's Chinatown. This was one of those places where the ducks hang in the window and the brightly colored neon sign is the only clue that this establishment is open. My grandfather theorized that the restaurants mainly exist to provide staple foods for the community so the dishes are more authentic. As of yet my grandfather's logic hasn't failed me.
So, if you are going to eat far off the NY Times "bests" lists this is the way to do it. Check out a few ethnic spots in Bed-Stuy:
Melanie's: West Indian Food
1285 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11216
If you are looking for West Indian food look no further than Melanie's on the corner of Fulton and Nostrand Avenues. Melanie's is a juice bar, bakery, and restaurant specializing in Trinidadian dishes. One of my favorite dishes is "Doubles" a common street food in Trinidad and Tobago. Doubles is made with two flat fried breads called "bara" and filled with "chana" or spiced chickpeas. Top it with a variety of chutney and you're in business. If you are looking for something more substantial try the oxtails with rice and peas. Likewise, the curry chicken and stew chicken is fall off the bone tender and pairs well with pumpkin or plantains. Finish your meal with a fresh natural juice. Melanie's has the perfect combination for whatever ails you.
African Cuisine: Senegalese and West African
1139 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY 11238
On Fulton Street at Franklin Avenue there is a restaurant whose green awning simply reads, "American and African Food." Inside its humble exterior there is a buffet of deliciousness awaiting. Every day this restaurant provides Senegalese and West African dishes to Senegalese and West African people. Many are cabbies and local businessmen here to grab a bite between shifts. There are no labels on the buffet, because most of the people who eat here know the dishes by sight. My suggestion is to eat with your eyes. Start with a generous serving of rice or couscous and build your plate from there. You can find classic Senegalese dishes such as thiebu dienne (rice and fish with vegetables in sauce) and soupakanja (okra stew), as well as Guinean specialties. Be sure to try the bissap (sorrel) and buy (baobab) to wash down your meal. The bissap here is remarkable. Sweet, rich, and cleansing.
American and Latin Cuisine: Latin Food
522 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216
And, the theme continues. On Nostrand Avenue at Macon Street there is a read awning that simply reads, "American and Latin Cuisine." Inside you will find a tantalizing buffet of Dominican dishes like yellow rice, beans, carne asada, and plantains. The food is simple yet full of flavor. The rotisserie chicken is the special here. It is marinated in a blend of spices and then left to roast for hours until the skin has only a slight crisp and the meat is tender and moist. You can smell the rotisserie from down the street. Let the savory scent of whole roasted chicken be your guide!
Stay tuned next week our Part III of Date Spots in Bed-Stuy.
Photo: Nicole Lewis
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