Flatbush Avenue cuts through the entirety of Brooklyn, stretching from the Manhattan bridge, down to the Gil Hodges Memorial bridge. It’s almost 10 miles long and touches about 12 different neighborhoods, defining borders for at least eight of those ‘hoods. One could start at the southern end, near Kings Plaza Mall, or at the northern end, frolicking around Fort Greene Park for a totally different experience. There’s a lot of culture and history in the heart of the avenue, too: the thoroughfare’s namesake ‘hood, Flatbush, is home to centuries-old churches, brand-new theaters and a huge Caribbean population.
Maybe you’ve just scored tickets to see an awesome show at King’s Theatre. Maybe you’re getting ready to lounge around Prospect Park for the day, and you want to pick up some goodies before you smoke too many joints in the park and end up eating a chicken sandwich from an overpriced Park Slope deli. Or maybe you just like adventure and you want to take in some of the incredible history along with a cultural experience. Either way, come to Flatbush Avenue hungry, and get ready to take a Brokelyn’s Caribbean Culinary Journey (TM) in the stretch of blocks between Parkside Avenue and Avenue D. Forget leaving the borough for “authentic” food; you won’t even need to turn off the street.
Ultimate Bakery Shop, Inc.
1248 Flatbush Ave.
Haitian patties differ from their Jamaican counterparts primarily in the dough. Haitian patties are fluffy and layered. The dough is crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. The technical term is laminated — the dough is covered in fat (lard, butter, oil, etc) and then folded on top of itself and re-rolled as many times as needed for the particular item (a technique undoubtedly influenced by the French, who colonized Haiti).
The beef patties at Ultimate Bakery are the best in the neighborhood, and they’ll only set you back $1. The beef patty and the saltcod patty are the best ones, but they also make chicken patties and smoked herring patties. The filling for the beef is moist and lightly curry spiced. The other item I recommend here is a pastry called a “cow tongue.” It’s a large, thin, square flaky pastry sprinkled with sugar and flavored with almond extract. It’s only a dollar fifty and it’s delicious.
La Cabana Rodriguez Restaurant
1062 Flatbush Ave.
There’s plenty to snack on here, but if you’re also looking to fill up this is a great place. Start with the stuffed potato balls ($2.25). They’re very similar to a Jamaican beef patty, the outside has the same familiar yellow hue but it’s made with potato and deep fried, and they’re round instead of flat, with silky, luscious beef filling. The filling is lightly spiced with a little curry and lots of slow cooked red bell pepper. Dominican chicken and cheese patties ($1.25) are like homemade Hot Pockets, complete with scalding cheese sauce. Nothing says Hot Pockets the way scalding cheese does.
For $2 you can get an order of sweet fried plantains or savory green plantains with dipping sauce. If you haven’t had enough meat yet, get a half pound of fried pork ($8/lb) and ask for limes. Pro tip: this place is open until 4am and they have $4 bottles of beer. Combine that with fried food, and you’re basically set.
C & J Restaurant and Bakery
875 Flatbush Ave.
I keep coming back here for soup, curries, and the occasional red velvet cake. If you haven’t had Jamaican soups before, you should definitely give this a try. There’s a lot of flavor building, plenty of herbs and spices (thyme and allspice being favorites) and stick-to-your-ribs heartiness. They make a different soup every day of the week. Some are better than others, but you’ll always get a good deal, considering the 16 oz is only $3.50. They stick to a schedule for their soups, and I suggest aiming for the Weds/Thurs/Fri block, which is chicken foot, beef, and goat head, respectively.
Red velvet cake and carrot cake are both staples of the Jamaican bakery scene, and a slice will only set you back $2 for carrot and $3.50 for red velvet. Not bad.
Jen’s Roti Shop
825 Flatbush Ave.
When I lived in Bed Stuy, I ate the Trinidadian street snack, doubles, about twice a week. Doubles are messy: they’re hot, spicy, sticky, sweet, salty and fatty all at once. And for $1.50, all of their glory can be yours. You’re looking at two small fried pancakes made with chickpea flour, wrapped loosely around curried chickpeas, tamarind sauce and hot pepper sauce. The whole thing is wrapped in a little piece of parchment. The chickpeas should be cooked through, but with a little texture. The tamarind sauce is sweet, sticky and thin, and you only taste it for a second. The pepper sauce should be hot. It should sneak up on you and make your lips tingle.
Jen’s Roti shop delivers on all points. The doubles here are delicious, they’re worth every cent of that $1.50, and they’re reason enough to make the trip. Jen’s other food is delicious too. Add meat to your doubles, ($3 for choice of goat, shrimp, chicken, or beef) or spring for the aloo pie ($2). Aloo pies are long, oblong pieces of fried dough that are cut in half and filled with vegetables. I often opt for an aloo pie with chana (the same chickpea curry that you get in doubles) or soft cooked pumpkin and spinach. Always get tamarind sauce. Always get pepper sauce.
752 Flatbush Ave.
This produce market has a lot of good, cheap Caribbean products. One of the days I visited, an employee was cutting and wrapping fresh callaloo – not something you’ll see at your local Associated. Anyway, when they’re in season, they have fresh water coconuts for $3.49 and a guy will cut it open for you and give you a straw. It’s like you’re on a tropical vacation! This is a refreshing end to a long list of fried foods, since you’ll want to stay hydrated. Plus, it’s way better than the pre-packaged stuff.
So stuff your face with delicious goodies, surprise the woman behind the counter when you ask for extra pepper sauce, bask in the rich, delicious history of Flatbush, and support local businesses – you can thank me later.
Here’s a map of the area this roundup covers, fyi:
Crawl through Brooklyn with Will at @EatTheInternet