Brooklyn doesn’t have white sandy beaches or turquoise waters, but on Labor Day weekend, it’s the most desirable destination in the West Indies.
More than three million people jam Eastern Parkway for a long weekend of festivities culminating in the 42nd annual parade — the biggest pageant in the city and the blowout of the summer.
With jerk chicken and other tropical flavors piled high and an endless stream of calypso, soca and reggae music — we’re talking about the real Indies bands here, and not some sloppy hipster acts from Williamsburg — it’s a feast for the ears and a symphony for the stomach.
Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans, Haitians, Guyanese, Barbadians, Trinidadians and more populate Brooklyn neighborhoods from Clinton Hill to Flatlands, from Downtown Brooklyn to Canarsie, but almost the full variety of food and drink can be experienced along Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights.
In homage to the borough’s lasting connection to the Lesser and Greater Antilles, The Brooklyn Paper presents its official, unauthorized guide to the West Indian Labor Day parade and Caribbean life — yea, mon!
• Jamaica: More Brooklynites trace their roots to Jamaica than any West Indian country. According to the 2000 census, almost 80,000 people in Kings County claimed Jamaican heritage.
The culinary highlights — featured at the Feeding Tree on Nostrand Avenue or the Islands on Washington Avenue — include jerk chicken, a salty, sweet, spicy flavor explosion the likes of which the taste buds are unlikely to find anywhere on Jah’s green earth; and ackee, the national dish consisting of a mashed local fruit and salted codfish.
Don’t neglect the beverages, including Irish moss, a sweetened sea-weed elixir (and purported aphrodisiac), or the equally excellent, yet less-arousing, carrot juice.
• Barbados: Bajan cuisine is an ode to the flying fish, which is fried or steamed before landing on restaurant plate. Cou cou, a cornmeal dish with okra slathered in hot sauce, is required eating, Cock’s Restaurant, which serves up both, is one of the few Bajan restaurants in Brooklyn.
• Trinidad and Tobago: The birthplace of Calypso is also the mother of some of the spiciest foods out of the Caribbean. Gloria’s, with several locations around Brooklyn, including the flagship on Nostrand, and Justin’s, (which also serves Guyanese items) on Lawerence Street, dish up the satisfying staples of curried chicken and goat, available in a roti or heaped on a plate.
The islands also created the “double,” an open-faced vegetarian dumpling of chickpeas and fruit chutney. They’re so good, they should be called “the quadruple.”
• Haiti: Haitian immigrants and their families are the second-largest West Indian group in Brooklyn and their French heritage distinguishes them from many of the other expats, who came mainly from what were once British colonies.
Kombit, on Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, is a more upscale reatuarant and serves piklin, a blazing hot condiment, with many fried dishes. Eaters beware. Also highly recommended is lambi, a conch stew with carrots and tomatoes.
• Guyana: The country on the northern coast of South America has a huge Indian influence on its food and Sybil’s, on Church Avenue, puts it all on display. The restaurant serves its take on curried goat and jerk chicken, but some of the options like dal, lentils, and chana, chickpeas, will have patrons think they’re eating in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Cock’s Restaurant [806 Nostrand Ave. between Lincoln and St. Johns places, (718) 771-8933]; Feeding Tree [816 Nostrand Ave. at Lincoln Place, (718) 778-5934]; Gloria’s [764 Nostrand Ave. at Sterling Place, (718) 773-3476]; The Islands [803 Washington Ave. between St. Johns Place and Eastern Parkway, (718) 398-3575]; Justin’s Island Cuisine [144 Lawrence St. between Fulton and Willoughby streets, (718) 625-9190]; Kombit [279 Flatbush Ave. at Prospect Place, (718) 399-2000]; Sybil’s [2210 Church Ave. at Flatbush Avenue, (718) 469-9049].