Neighborhood Paradise: Crown Heights is on Fiyah at Glady's
Bright colors, brighter flavors
Globally, we are a people obsessed with productivity, and nowhere is this sentiment more worshiped than in America, where under-eye bags and corrective carpal-tunnel bracelets might as well be fashion trends. With vacation time at the whim of employers (we're one of the few countries without an employment leave minimum), time off from work is desperately precious. But rather than flip my flops and escape to some island paradise, I may just head over to see Michael Jacober at Glady's in Crown Heights.
A veteran of Per Se and Annisa, Jacober left fine dining to launch the Morris Grilled Cheese Truck in spring 2011. Busy fella, he's planning a brick-and-mortar outpost of that venture adjacent to Glady's — named after his grandmother — in the near future. Lately, though, he's been focusing on creating one of the most compelling arguments I've encountered for seeing some upside to the dreaded "G" word.
Glady's may be rare proof that gentrification isn't always a four-letter word. It was well-received when it opened last year as a New American restaurant. Later, inspired by living in Crown Heights, Jacober was compelled to change course completely with a Caribbean bent. At first, it sounds like the restaurant that white guilt built, but he confides that the prospect of being a white guy cooking Caribbean food in a Caribbean neighborhood was simply too distressing at first.
From my visits, the neighborhood has clearly accepted him. Like other fine-dining expats who've become immersed in cuisines that excited them, Jacober is applying that knowledge and focus into details like importing fresh green wood from Jamaica. Think of Glady's as the Caribbean Pok Pok. Families in a range of skin tones take up the communal blond wood-topped tables during the early hours, giving way to the tight-pantsed Instagrammer at night. The aesthetic is decidedly Brooklyn™, but damn if it doesn't have character. Dressed in aquamarine contrasted with white tile, the room feels breezy and tropical. Potted plants hang from above and a wood-burning fire glows in the corner of the room.
Shannon Mustipher runs the well-stocked bar, concentrating on rum and other sugarcane-derived libations. A slushy version of the Dark 'n' Stormy ($6) and a proprietary scully court cooler ($7), with bourbon, pineapple, lime, and bitters, are easy to love. Cocktails all clock in under $10. There's a Pusser's Rum–certified Painkiller, the signature drink from a company that screwed over a great, now-defunct bar on the Lower East Side. The dark rum is shaken with cream of coconut and orange juice over crushed ice and garnished with pineapple slices showered in grated nutmeg. Tasting flights (navy rums, extra aged) are $15 to $30.
Vintage reggae, rocksteady, dub, and dancehall tunes slither out of the stereo, from the soul- and funk-inspired grooves of the '60s and '70s to artists like Barrington Levy and Sugar Minott. It's aural nirvana for lovers of the genre.
Plates arrive quickly, a delicious paradox of the low and slow cooking employed by co-chef Matteo Potenza. He jerks chicken, pork, lobster (the most expensive thing on the menu at $28), and seitan for hours, breaking down proteins to order. Hunks of pork sport an almost barbecue-like smoke ring. It vies with the chicken for moistest meat, and both cost under $10. Seasoning is off the charts, as allspice and scotch bonnet peppers have a West Side Story–style rumble on your tongue from both a dry rub and a bracing vinegar-based hot sauce heavy on cloves and more allspice.
Silky goat curry turned our eating groans gruff, the supple, grassy meat wrested easily from its bones bobbing next to potatoes in a rich sepia-toned stew. Seasoned with garlic and rosemary, whole fish fried in coconut oil hits the table crisp and greaseless. Pepper shrimp — six head-on beauties for $12 — are draped with charred scallions, a spicy, unctuous answer to New Orleans's barbecue variety.
Exceptional sides, including deeply burnished plantains and fried dough cylinders called festivals, are all $3 save for a $5 platter of fiery, crackled jerk wings. Nitpicking, our "spicy slaw" had the limp, slow burn of a discount Hanukkah candle, and a touch too much soy sauce threatened gingery bok choy.
A lack of proper dessert or coffee service is a great opportunity to order another drink, but the check is graciously served with a gratis scoop of coconut ice cream. Like all vacations, you wish you could stay here forever, but this one's only a subway ride away. Perhaps best of all, unlike most gentrifying restaurants, it's serving this elevated-yet-familiar cuisine at prices consistent with the neighborhood.