If you poke around this website, you’ll notice that my ultimate goal is to eat food from “every nation in the world” without leaving NYC, and you’ll notice that I have my eye on only about 160 nations, give or take. But if we’re being really technical, there are actually about 196 countries on earth, depending on whose list you look at.
Why the discrepancy? Well, it’s obviously pretty ridiculous to hope that, say, Nauru, with a population of 10,000, would have sent chefs or restaurateurs to New York. Vatican City is technically it’s own nation as well, even though only 800 people live there. (I suppose that the body and blood of Christ is the national dish of Vatican City. That’s not a vegetarian entree, huh?)
Anyway, I had to draw the line somewhere, so I decided that countries only qualify for my quest if they have a population of at least 1,000,000 people.
But I’m willing to make an occasional exception. Little Barbados, with its population of 255,000, has sent many thousands of immigrants to NYC. Believe it or not, there are at least three restaurants serving Barbadian (locals prefer the term “Bajan”) food in NYC, and I find that amazing.
We decided to pick on Cock’s Restaurant in Crown Heights, partly because it’s closer to a subway station than its siblings, and partially because… well… how can you resist a place called Cock’s?
As you might expect, there’s plenty of overlap between Bajan cuisine and, say, Jamaican or Trinidadian food. Cock’s menu includes roti, Caribbean curries, jerk chicken, and stew chicken, much like you might find in other Caribbean haunts. Since a few of us had gorged ourselves silly on Jamaican food earlier in the week, we made a point of ordering a few of the same dishes, just to see if we’d encounter any differences.
This time, I dined in a group of five people, including myself. My law student girlfriend, who usually doesn’t get out much, joined us, along with a Grenadian classmate of hers, who had lots of interesting insights into Caribbean cuisine. We were also accompanied by the usual beefy Puerto Rican and a random white guy from Nebraska. I like all of these people because they’re willing to eat pretty much anything, including cow hooves and blood sausage–which happen to form a combo delicacy called “puddin & souse” in Bajan cuisine.
Cock’s is an extremely informal little place that does most of its business as takeout. There are only three tables, and we monopolized two of them for pretty much the entire evening. Elaine, the friendly Bajan owner of Cock’s, very generously spent a large part of the night talking to us about her food and her country, and we ended up staying in the restaurant from 7:00 until Elaine locked the doors at 11:00.
We obviously took our sweet old time, and the meal accidentally turned into a three-course affair. We started with codfish balls, which are peppery little friend balls of dough with saltcod. A little bit intense from a grease perspective, but really tasty. I didn’t think to ask Elaine about the spices involved, but it seemed to have a similar magic to the Jamaican stew peas—perhaps there’s such a thing as “Bajan pepper”? We washed the codfish balls down with ginger beer and the aforementioned puddin and souse; it’s safe to say that the puddin and souse is an acquired taste if you aren’t a habitual hoof-eater.
For our main courses, we ordered three familiar items: chicken roti, stew chicken, and curry goat. Yes, we ate goat curry twice in the same week.
I have almost nothing to say about the roti. It was reasonably well-executed, but not the best I’d ever eaten. The stew chicken, on the other hand, was absolutely fantastic. Cock’s version of Bajan stew chicken was much drier than The Island’s, but it somehow had a great balance to it—it was one of those simple plates of chicken that seemed to have some magic to it, and I’m far too ignorant to figure out exactly what made Elaine’s stew chicken so special.
The goat curry was also a winner. Earlier in the week, we sampled a gamey Jamaican goat curry, and I was pretty convinced that goat always inevitably tastes like barnyard, no matter what. Apparently, I was wrong. Cock’s goat (not to be confused with goat’s cock) somehow was much milder, and tasted something like a curried beef potroast, if that makes any sense at all. Whenever I see goat on a menu from now on, I’ll at least entertain the possibility of giving it a try.
But the real highlight of the night was the cou-cou with pan-fried flying fish, the national dish of Barbados. It’s a little bit tough for me to make cou-cou sound good, but if you imagine mashed potatoes made from yellow cornmeal, you won’t be too far off. I absolutely loved the stuff, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that I’m from Iowa, which is a corn-dominated state that often gets mistaken for Idaho, the potato state. I could very easily eat this meal every day for a very long time and never, ever get tired of it. I think that all of my friends completely agreed with me on that one. It’s worth the trip to Crown Heights, just for the cou-cou.
Now, let’s suppose that you have some sort of paranoia disorder, and you feel that you might need some protection as you walk from the restaurant to the Nostrand Avenue subway station. Cock’s has you covered: just order a bag of leadpipe pastry for dessert. For $3, you can get a bag of four little tubes of the rock-hard, almond-flavored pastry, each of which weighs about two pounds.
If you buy a bag of the stuff, you have a couple of choices. You could beat the crap out of somebody with it if that’s your thing. Or, if you’re a kind, gentle soul like Elaine, you’ll dip the leadpipe in coffee, tea, or ginger beer, and gently nibble on it.
But if you eat too much, it might beat the crap out of your poor stomach. Just a friendly warning.
Cock’s Restaurant (no website)
806 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn
Subway: Nostrand Ave. station (3 train)