Every Labor Day Weekend for the past 50 years, Crown Heights’ Eastern Parkway transforms to a colorful sea of Caribbean flags, music, costumes, and revelry. This was once the largest parade in North America, thanks to the Afro-Caribbean and West Indian communities that settled in the area en masse from the 1960s through the 1990s. The parade has dwindled in size over the years due to gentrification, but the weekend still begins with a series of live concerts and steel orchestras, soca, reggae artists, and larger-than-life costumes in the Brooklyn Museum’s parking lot, and culminates with the annual West Indian American Day Parade.
But you don’t have to wait until Labor Day to experience Caribbean culture in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. Naturally, the immigrants who hailed from the islands of Trinidad, Grenada, St. Vincent, Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana also migrated with their rich culinary traditions, and their descendants went on to fuse flavors for a fresh “Caribpolitan” take on Caribbean cuisine. Follow along below to try some of the best offerings in the neighborhood.
A cultural entrepreneur born in NYC and raised between Brooklyn & the Caribbean, Shelley Worrell created caribBEING, spearheaded the designation and development of Little Caribbean, and is the head of Caribbean Partnerships for the US Department of Commerce. Worrell has produced 400+ immersive experiences in partnership with top corporations and cultural institutions including James Beard Foundation, Google Arts & Culture, Studio Museum in Harlem, Vox Media and others. Her multi-platform & cross-cultural activations have been featured by Black Enterprise, NBC, and Hyperallergic; and she has been personally profiled in The New York Times and Good Morning America. Worrell holds a BA in Cultural Studies from CUNY, Brooklyn College and a MA in Media Studies from the New School.
Nestled on a corner with a bright blue and yellow storefront inspired by the Bajan flag, Culpepper’s is a casual spot for beach-inspired classics like accras - fluffy fried balls made with saltfish and West Indian seasonings. For a heartier meal, try the national dish, cou-cou, an Afro-Caribbean staple prepared with cornmeal, okra, and coconut milk served with flying fish in a brightly colored orange stew with hints of tomato, onion, and lime juice.
Just north of Empire Blvd. sits a third-generation roti shop named after the family’s matriarch, Gloria Wilson. Gloria’s recently suffered tremendous generational loss documented by Gothamist. During its heyday, Gloria’s had three locations, and is currently operated by Gloria’s grandson, Bryan. Another institution best known for Trini-style roti and pholourie (fluffy fried balls made with split peas served with tamarind sauce), Gloria’s is a must-visit. My order here is usually the goat buss-up (paratha), but as an alternative, I’d also recommend the boneless chicken roti. The best way to eat this is in its traditional Indo-Caribbean style: with your hands and with plenty of pepper. Pair it with tamarind for a sweet and spicy flavor along with an Apple J, and boom, you’ll feel like you are at a Carnival fete.
Support Caribbeing’s Save Gloria’s Legal Fund by donating to Caribbeing’s GoFundMe or purchasing this limited edition print by local artist Laura Thorne.
Started by husband-wife duo Shelly & Khalid, Island Pops is a modern Caribbean ice cream shop with seasonal flavors influenced by back home. I was first introduced to Island Pops circa 2016 when they were operating from an ice cream bike that sold Caribbean popsicles at events like Caribbeing in Brooklyn, and have since watched their business blossom into a bustling storefront with dozens of island-inspired flavors, ranging from soursop to Ovaltine to sorrel rum. My preferred flavors are sorrel, nutmeg, and the rum-infused hibiscus popsicle. But on a hot summer day, you really can’t go wrong with anything in this family-friendly ice cream shop.
When Part 1 of Island Hopping was published, @ulovemrsedwards slid into Little Caribbean’s DMs insisting I try Golden Palace’s currant rolls with a pro-tip of when they come out of the oven — daily at exactly 3pm. Naturally, I had to go see what the hype was about, and wasn’t disappointed. Moist and dense with currants, TGP delivers a flaky pastry that melts in your mouth and has the perfect ratio of currants, spices, and flakiness. Since you made it through the long line, you should sample some Chinese-Caribbean food, too, like pepper shrimp or Trini-style chicken with fried rice and wontons. Back home in the Caribbean, we love sauce on almost everything so I’d recommend getting your selection drizzled with tamarind sauce.
Another Brooklyn institution that expanded to a larger space with outdoor seating, The Islands is always there for you when you want a plate of traditional food that tastes fresh from the Yard. The Islands serves up Jamaican classics ranging from oxtail to escovitch fish, jerk and curry chicken. When we hosted food influencer collective @ladieswhomeat, they couldn’t get enough of the fall-off-the bone oxtail with rice and peas, stewed cabbage, sweet plantains and quickly discovered why roti is best when ordered from a Trinidadian or Guyanese establishment. Next on my must-try list is the jerk lamb, jerk shrimp, and mac and cheese.
If you want traditional Jamaican food that transports you to Kingston or Ocho Rios, this is the spot. With its laidback atmosphere, Island Cz serves up classics like oxtail, curries, and tasty bar bites like mango wings and wraps. A local favorite of the first Caribbean-American City Council Member Dr. Una Clarke, Island Cz is where to pull up on Franklin when you’re feeling like having a cocktail alongside a classic island meal.
After injuring my knee salsa dancing to Tito Puente in my kitchen, I was happy to learn Lakou Cafe, a Haitian community cafe in Weeksville, delivers. As a lover of jackfruit that I typically eat as whole fruit, I was excited to try their jerk jackfruit sandwich served with chickpeas, plantain chips, and salad. The tangy filling comes between two slices of country bread, which after one bite, I realized I preferred jackfruit as a stand-alone dish. So I ditched the bread, added some pikliz, and voila - I had a vegan low-carb meal. When I visit IRL, I plan on sampling their Haitian hot chocolate and legume stew with shrimp.
A Guyanese institution with humble beginnings in Georgetown, German’s Soup opened in the 1960s and is best known for their Afro-Caribbean specialties like cow heel soup, a favorite of the working class. So when its New York flagship relocated from East Flatbush to Crown Heights, I was excited to try both their soup and the Guyanese egg ball, a delicacy prepared with boiled eggs enveloped and deep-fried in cassava. Food blogger @metemgee has noted that she tends to prepare egg balls during Easter because of all of the leftover eggs. Surprisingly, this delicacy isn’t greasy and has a moist, light texture. In West Indian cuisines, no fried dough is complete without sauce, so I paired mine with tamarind sour. As for the soup, I went for Caribbean comfort food, cow heel prepared with a creamy split pea base flavored with provisions, corn, sweet dumplings, and generous chunks of cow’s feet. Not only was the soup filling and nutritious as its marrow makes it high in collagen, the spicy chunks of corn also transported me back home to my Auntie Cheryl’s kitchen.
Having won a James Beard in 2019, A&A on Fulton is one of the most iconic Caribbean eateries in NYC. A must-visit in the heart of Bed-Stuy, this is where you pull up for popular Trini street food doubles, two barras filled with chickpeas, and sweet and spicy toppings ranging from tamarind to chutney to pepper sauce (you might be noticing a trend here. I love spicy food). With a line usually out the door, plan to give yourself at least thirty minutes, bring at least $10, and while two doubles might fill you up, I’d recommend getting some extras to surprise someone (or yourself) with later.
I first met owner Sabrina and her husband at the Taste of Little Caribbean event, and as a lover of Haitian music and art, this is one of my go-to restaurants when I am in Bed-Stuy. I especially love to perch in the bright dining area next to the picture window noshing a fresh fish sandwich seasoned with epis (a blend of Haitian spices) topped with pikliz and spiced herb mayo with a side of bannann (fried green plantains) and cola couronne. While you’re there, be sure to visit their marketplace where you can pick up authentic Haitian goods like bestselling Cantave St. Marc coffee, chocolate, spicy peanut butter, and grab some patties to-go.
While this is not a Caribbean restaurant, I’d like to give Ras an honorable mention especially given its proximity to Rastafarian culture and cuisine, and their beautifully designed interior with murals inspired by Emperor Haile Selassie. Located on Franklin, Ras is a hip Ethiopian spot serving fresh ital (plant-based) dishes. It’s one of my new favorite spots, and so far, I’ve sampled both samosa varieties, spicy avocado dip, and traditional injera with a melange of brightly colored vegetables including beets, lentils, and carrots. Wash this down with an Ethiopian beer like Negus while people-watching on Franklin Avenue, and your afternoon is made. Surprisingly, I was satisfied after eating only half of the meal, and had a healthy portion of leftovers for lunch the next day.
Likkle Jamaican Dumpling House
I absolutely love this place for its Caribbean take on dumplings, and literally want to try everything. So far, I’ve eaten my way through the tasty soft shell crab bao, broiled lobster tail, smoked duck, and spicy crab dumplings with spicy likkle sauce. Next up is more dumplings, yucca fries, and the fresh off-the-gram re-release of duck fried rice. This summer you’ll find me dining al fresco during live reggae sessions with a Red Stripe in hand.
Located in brownstone, Imani Caribbean Kitchen is where you pull up for brunch and special occasions. As a lover of seafood, I went straight for the vacay we are all waiting for with the “Pan di Beach,” a coconut-seafood stew with lobster, scallops, shrimp, PEI mussels, and, yes, scotch bonnet peppers. I was also excited to sample their version of accras, Atlantic codfish fritters served with lime and curry dipping sauce. Since we were on the beach, I went for the classic Caribbean rum punch. I can’t wait to go back with a group of friends to try their stuffed plantain boat, ackee spring rolls, and the personalized mimosa experience. It’ll be tough to decide between passion, guava, and mango.