Editors Note: We love a good food crawl, especially the impromptu kind featuring the sort of thing you don’t see on standard menus all the time — just really good food from people who’ve been feeding their neighbors for a long time. Photographer Donny Tsang undertook just such a crawl of Flatbush’s West Indian eateries, with food explorer and Dinevore.com founder Jeremy Fisher acting as his guide.
Back in the day, the area of Flatbush now occupied largely by a vibrant West Indian community was once predominantly Jewish. So said Jeremy Fisher, founder of Dinevore, while we both enjoyed a half order of jerk chicken from Exquisite Delight. Jeremy has a special connection to Flatbush – his father grew up there. In the 70s and 80s an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean started to really change the neighborhood. If you walk down Church Avenue today, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants and bakeries selling jerk chicken, beef patties, roti, soul food, curry, and doubles. Flatbush has become a can’t miss- destination for food lovers looking for authentic West Indies food.
On a bright Saturday, I met up with Jeremy around noon at Exquisite Delight. We ordered half a chicken, though I think between the two of us we could’ve easily finished a whole chicken. Yeah.
At Exquisite Delight, there’s a special drill: you place your order and moments later, they put your order on the counter. On the counter reside bottles of a variety of sauces that you squirt onto your chicken. Finally, they put a lid over the chicken and slide it into a paper bag for you.
The routine complete, we grabbed a couple of seats at the counter by the window and dug in. The chicken was outrageous! Juicy, flavorful and spicy. It came with four slices of white bread — in case we got the urge to turn our chicken feast into a sandwich party. But let me be clear: this jerk chicken is something you eat with your hands because the spices and the meat are so good that you want to get every last piece of off the bones.
Jeremy explained that there is a difference between daytime and nighttime jerk chicken. If you want jerk chicken that was cooked not too long ago, then you generally want nighttime jerk chicken, which they don’t start cooking till after 10pm. At most places, the daytime jerk chicken is chicken made the night before. So there are different places that you go if you want good daytime chicken and different places to go for nighttime chicken. Exquisite Delight, in Jeremy’s opinion, has some of the best daytime chicken.
For our next stop we headed over to the Immaculee Bakery for patties. It’s a tiny store filled with bags and bags of cocoa bread. We knew better than to fill our bellies with bread, so we ordered up two patties – beef and fish – instead. Both patties were super flakey and delicious.
On our way to our final food stop, we constantly stopped to peek into different restaurants. There were several places along Church Ave. that we agreed we should check out on our next quest for Caribbean food.
Bake & Things was our final stop. Jeremy took me there for their famous ‘doubles.’ What is a double? Two fried flatbreads filled with chickpeas.
The inside of Bake & Things was tiny and intended for take-out only. While we were placing our order, the girl behind the counter asked us if we wanted to try a “buss up shut.” We had no idea what she was talking about but she assured us that it was very good. So we said sure! She proceeded to ask us if we wanted chicken or goat curry. Since we had just eaten half of a jerk chicken we decided to get the goat.
What Jeremy and I didn’t expect was a whole platter of food. The amount of goat curry with potatoes was easily enough for one very hungry person. While eating, we did a quick search on the history of the buss up shut, which looked very similar to a roti. And in fact, it is a roti — a roti from Trinidad. Originally it was called “bust up shirt” because it looked like a busted up shirt. Since then it has evolved colloquially into the “buss up shut.” So when you’re there, you’ll know a bit of the lingo.
As with the chicken, there’s no need for utensils – just grab a hunk of the roti and use it to pick up the goat meat and eat. It’s fantastic. We were glad that we listened to the girl. Later we found out the guy sitting behind us was the chef that made the roti. His name was Dave. Thank you, Dave!
With our stomachs full, Jeremy gave me an historical tour of Flatbush. Thanks to a few tips from his father, Jeremy took me to the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Flatbush. Founded in 1654 by the Dutch, it was a popular hang out place for Jeremy’s dad and his friends back in the day – the police would frequently come and tell them to leave. Directly across from the church was Erasmus Hall High School, founded in 1786, was where his father went to high school.
We even found where his dad used to live. Sadly the house wasn’t there anymore – as is so often the case, it was replaced by an apartment complex. We ended the tour at the Prospect Park Parade Grounds where his dad used to play baseball.
Thanks to Jeremy for a rich and delicious tour of Flatbush. If you want to explore Flatbush on your own and try some unforgettable and authentic West Indian food, make sure to check out Jeremy’s list of his Flatbush favorites on Dinevore.