A dazzling bill of fare, prepared and served primarily by vendors who rarely do business except on special occasions, is a highlight of the annual West Indian Day Parade. Each Labor Day, the parade and its accompanying street-food bonanza blanket some two miles of Eastern Pkwy., in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
The night before, from Sunday until the wee hours of Monday, an unofficial pre-parade event occupies several blocks of Utica Ave. just south of Eastern Pkwy., at the eastern end of the parade route. It's an early opportunity to procure a flag, or hat, or bandana, or what-have-you in the national colors of a dozen Caribbean nations. It's also an early opportunity to chow down on jerk chicken (above), grilled corn, bags of guineps and sliced mangos, a vinegary serving of cow-foot souse (below), and various gaily colored snow cones and fruit drinks, some of them not entirely street legal. The more exotic items are available only on the day of the parade, but this evening event is less sweltering and much less crowded, too.
Eve of the West Indian Day Parade Vicinity of Utica Ave. and Eastern Pkwy., Crown Heights, Brooklyn (The 2015 festivities took place on September 6-7)
Love the shadow type — not only the beach-resort turquoise-and-mustard of "coffee shop" but also the theatricality of the Lotto sign, rendered in the colors of the New York Mets. That particular lottery program was introduced in 1978, which seems about right for the signage as a whole.
Oildown, the national dish of Grenada (Saturday only, $12), rarely receives such a pretty presentation. Long-simmered together in coconut milk, herbs, and spices until the liquid is greatly cooked down, the weightier ingredients acquire a look-alike yellow-green glow. Until you dig in, it can be a challenge to distinguish pickled pigtail from salt cod or breadfruit from dumpling (the oblong, doughy Caribbean sort of dumpling). The flower provides a natural resting place for the eye, albeit a temporary one: It too is edible.
Wheat paste and other wet adhesives are out, self-sticking posters are in. The technology that helps determine what ads run where, especially when two half-sized posters fill a full-sized frame, undoubtedly has also improved over the years, but it can't do away with the need for good judgment. Shown: a call for donations to City Harvest, which reminds us how many New Yorkers face hunger, and a pitch for BuzzBallz, ready-to-drink cocktails in pop-top containers.
Apart from one annual celebration,
New York affords few opportunities to try oildown, a coconut-milk stew that's widely considered the national dish of Grenada. (Allowing for Trini oildowns and Jamaican rundowns adds extra opportunities, but you'll have to parse the differences for yourself.) On weekends, Labay prepares this and a few other cooked items; you might also find a drinking-coconut stand outside, even in brisk weather.
From the small kitchen (too small to trouble with a menu, let alone seats), I was treated to a sample of a codfish oildown that also sported breadfruit, green banana, okra, and some leafy green. Most likely this was callaloo, but it's hard to be sure when everything is coated in a yellowish slick, which adds a prevailing flavor more sweet than spicy. (It also stains, if you're careless.) My codfish oildown, from the bottom of the pot, was ladled out in early afternoon; for pigtail oildown or hot slices of roasted breadfruit, you'll want to arrive earlier still.
Braised kale on ciabatta ($8.95) brought to mind a great vegetarian option at Shorty's (nee Tony Luke's). Once known as the "green sandwich," essentially this was the shop's celebrated "roast pork Italian" without the pork. The current name, "broccoli rabe sandwich," preempts what must have been a common question with a blunt answer (and eliminates the option of spinach, which to my taste doesn't have enough bite). But the newer name surrenders something, too. There's satisfaction in visiting a favorite feeding ground and knowing what's what without having to ask, in being one of the guys and not a johnny-come-lately.
This evening the only mystery was for my dining buddy — from our table, she couldn't quite see the menu board behind the counter — who guessed that the ciabatta was spread with a particularly nice hummus, when in truth it was a luscious fava bean puree. In short, nice sandwich.
Lincoln Station 409 Lincoln Pl. (Washington-Classon Aves.), Crown Heights, Brooklyn 718-399-2211 www.StationFoods.com