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A Day of Island Hopping in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean

Julie Weil

October 01, 2018

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Shelley Worrell Photo: Nicole Craine
Photo: Nicole Craine

New York City, and Brooklyn in particular, is home to one of the largest, most diverse Caribbean populations in the world. “It means that we have everything here from restaurants to music to the freshest ingredients,” says Shelley V. Worrell, a Brooklyn native and the founder and chief curator of CaribBeing.

CaribBeing is a thriving cultural organization and lifestyle brand that stands at the crossroads of film, art, and culture. Worrell curates exhibitions at the CaribBeing House, produces public programs in collaboration with top New York City cultural institutions, and most recently held a residency at the Brooklyn Museum over the summer. Earlier this month, Worrell welcomed JBF Greens to the CaribBeing House, before they enjoyed a dinner cooked up by some of the city’s best Caribbean chefs at the nearby Caribbean Social. While Worrell especially appreciates how Caribbean culture is celebrated and preserved in parades and festivals, she says one of the best demonstrations of the rich and diverse Caribbean culture in New York “is reflected in the cuisine, which can be found in neighborhoods from Flatbush to Crown Heights, to Richmond Hill, to Harlem to Washington Heights, to Fordham. You can literally island-hop right here in New York City without ever getting on a plane.” We caught up with Worrell, the ultimate insider, about how to spend a day in Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean.

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Morning

After my daily coffee with a splash of Angostura bitters and coconut water, I head over to Allan’s Bakery on Nostrand Avenue. I prefer their currant and coconut rolls over bagels. The bakery is a neighborhood institution and my family has been going there for as long as I can remember. And if I could afford the calories, I would have Haitian morue (salted cod) or herring patties from La Baguette Shop or Grandchamps every morning. Island Express makes a delicious Guyanese version of these savory pastries, as well.

If it’s the weekend, there’s no better time for market shopping, and there is no place like Labay Market, whose owner, Mac, imports fresh produce directly from his estate in Grenada. I typically pick up soursop, breadfruit, pimento peppers, chadon beni, sorrel, and, if my mom is in town, salted pig tail and callaloo bush for our Sunday lunch. Pro Tip: tell Mac his friends from Little Caribbean sent you! Then I head next door to Little Mo Wine & Spirits, which has an eclectic rum collection from the Caribbean. I always check out their “How to Choose Wine for Dinner” chalkboard for pairing ideas.

Afternoon

For lunch in Little Caribbean, I would definitely head over to Jen’s Roti Shop for paratha (“buss-up shut”), and order the curry goat with a side order of pumpkin. Growing up in a West Indian/Caribbean household, my palette is spicy, which means I order mine with plenty of pepper. If I am eating at home or with family, I would add kuchela (hot Trinidadian mango relish) and curried mango or pommecythere.  

After lunch, come visit us in Caribbeing House, our mobile shipping container housing an art and culture space located just outside of the Q train at Parkside and across the street from Prospect Park. We are currently running an exhibition called “Provisions” featuring iconic Jamaican foods such as ackee, jerk seasoning, and Red Stripe beer, by artist–recipe developer Shaneika Marson, and an installation called “Tally mi Banana” by Jova Lynne Tally.

Night

I typically cook dinner at home, but when I do go out for Caribbean food, I head to Flatbush Junction (Flatbush Avenue from Empire to Nostrand Avenues) for oxtail. I recommend McBean’s or Exquisite Delight on Church and Nostrand Avenues. 

After a fete or bashment (an epic Caribbean party) there’s nothing better than some late night food from Peppa’s. Jerk chicken, escovitch fish, pepper shrimp…did I mention jerk? 

If you want to get a feel for the party’s vibes, I’m currently listening to these mixes online by King Addies, a popular Brooklyn-based Jamaican sound system and the Shining Souls from London/Guadeloupe who fuse house with reggae, dub, and other Caribbean genres.  

For more about CaribBeing and Little Caribbean, visit caribbeing.com and littlecaribbean.nyc. CaribBeing is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Little Caribbean is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Julie Weil is special events associate at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram.