A Brokavore quiz: The word “doubles” refers to a) a team tennis match; b) a beloved Trinidadian snack; c) manna for the cheapskate chowhound.
If you hesitated before answering d) all of the above, it’s time you were brought up to speed. In the edible division, a “doubles” consists of a dollop of thick chickpea curry (channa) served between a pair of small fried flatbreads (baras), along with a hit of tamarind chutney and, if you do the right thing and order it “with pepper,” West Indian hot sauce. Wrapped up piping hot in a wax-paper twist, it’s a terrific miniature gut-bomb that melds chick-pea earthiness, chutney sweetness, cumin-and-curry tang and scotch-bonnet heat, along with the bland comfort of the doughy, stretchy bread. And they run a mere buck or buck-and-change apiece, which can mean lunch for a couple dollars. (Or do like the Trinidadians do, and eat them for breakfast.)
Because Brooklyn is home to many a Trinidadian expat, it’s prime territory for eating doubles, which are found wherever there are lilting Caribbean accents in the air. You can get them at quite a few spots in Prospect Lefferts or further down Flatbush Ave., but our focus today is the southern edge of Bed-Stuy, by the Nostrand Ave. stop on the A train. Within yards of here stand a pair of venerable spots, A&A Bake and Doubles (481 Nostrand Ave. between Fulton & Halsey), and, around the corner at 1267 Fulton St., Ali’s Trinidadian Roti Shop.
Ali’s is bigger than the shoebox-sized A&A, and has a few tables where you can eat after you shout your order through a hole in the glass wall at the rear, and pick it up at a second window. A&A—the self-proclaimed “Doubles King”—has a small steam table where food is efficiently dished up to lines that snake down the block when it’s busy. If you want to hit both, and why not, you’ll need to go in the early afternoon. That’s because Ali’s doesn’t open until noon, while A&A, which opens early for the breakfast crowd, closes whenever the food runs out, which can happen as early as 2 p.m. ¶
For the third stop on our triple-crown doubles tour take a walk down Nostrand to Royal Bakery and Roti House, at 618 Nostrand Ave. between Dean and Pacific. It’s a nondescript bakery where bread pudding, sponge cake and other sweets fill a line of glass cases and orders for savory items like roti and doubles are written on brown paper bags and passed through a window into the kitchen. (Part of the menu is Chinese food, perhaps in a Trinidadian style, which could be interesting.) ¶
Royal’s doubles is more buttery than the darker, swarthier Ali’s, and A&A is hotter than either. Beyond noting that we’ll leave it to more dogged doubles devotees to debate the nuances of each specimen, and just proclaim each one Pretty Damn Good. Though we can’t fail to note that Royal’s doubles are the cheapest, at $1 vs. $1.25, and that we found it the friendliest as well, giving it a slight edge for the Brokavore blue ribbon.
Between rotis (larger flatbread rollups) and bakes (sandwiches stuffed into puffy flatbread) in numerous varieties there are many other items worth investigating at all these spots, not one of which veers from bargain territory. As I write this I’m pining for a bake and salt fish at Royal, which costs all of $2.50.
I copycat ordered one recently after the guy in front of me did, and was rewarded with a salty, scallion-laced fish salad spread on beautifully chewy bread, doctored with hot-pepper sauce whose sneaky kick crept up gradually as I walked toward the train, scarfing from a paper bag.