The Food Sermon's Caribbean Bowls Deserve a Loud Amen
Peppery, heat: The tofu vegetable bowl
Devout Seventh-Day Adventists observe the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until Sunday afternoon. They also avoid meat. Chef Rawlston Williams, who was raised as a Seventh-Day Adventist in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, abides by one of these precepts: At his Crown Heights Caribbean restaurant, the Food Sermon, you can order a bone-in lamb shank over rice and beans, doused in coconut-ginger sauce — just not on Saturdays, when the place is closed.
Williams is a theology-school dropout who, after some false career starts, became enamored of food and opened the Food Sermon in February of 2015. But the restaurant's only nod to spirituality, beyond its name, is found over the table where diners can fill up handled mason jars with water from a stainless-steel jug: WE BELIEVE IN YOU! the wall kindly yells in all-white caps.
There are immediate indicators that this corner spot at Sullivan Place believes in food, too. There's a stack of cookbooks, from Thomas Keller's sous-vide tome Under Pressure to the classic The Joy of Cooking, off to the side of the ordering station. On an overhead TV, tucked in the corner, Chef's Table plays on mute.
The Food Sermon self-identifies as fast-casual, a description that brings to mind chains like Chipotle or Panera Bread. What Williams is doing here, though, doesn't fit that bill. It's only open for lunch one day a week, it's not in an office-heavy neighborhood, and this food is cooked to order and intricately plated. But the service is fast, and the setting — you order at the counter, pick your tray up, and bus the table yourself — is definitely casual.
The restaurant specializes in what it calls island bowls: a choice of protein (lamb, fish, jerk chicken, or tofu), either spicy-tomato or coconut-ginger sauce, white or brown rice, and red beans or chickpeas. (You can also add roasted mushrooms and potatoes, steamed broccoli, kale, or seasonal veggies.)
I opted for the tofu, which is spice-rubbed and beautifully seared, with a peppery taste and a meaty texture. The tomato sauce has a slow-hitting, deep heat that doesn't overwhelm (a friend eating the jerk chicken noted how it melded agreeably with the seasoning), and the coconut-ginger is likewise well-balanced. The house hot sauce — slightly fruity, with hints of warming spices like cinnamon — is a winner; it can burn, though it mellows as you mix it in. If you want a side, choose the buttery roasted fingerling potatoes, touched by rosemary, which would work best with that bone-in lamb.
The Food Sermon doesn't serve alcohol, but you're encouraged to run across the street to pick up beers at the bodega. Or go for one of two traditional, house-made bottled teas. There's sweet, fruity sorrel — a deep-red blend of the herb's flowers, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar — which complements the dishes nicely. Then there's mauby, a Caribbean staple made from mauby bark, which makes for a very bitter sip; try it if you're a fan of root beer.
Anyone sick of the standard grain, smoothie, and açai bowls exalted by trend-obsessed food blogs and paleo people should head over to the Food Sermon. Williams's island bowls are somehow both homey and nothing like what you're cooking up at home. That's what makes this affordable, accessible eatery a blessing. And for that, we say amen.
The Food Sermon
355 Rogers Avenue, Brooklyn
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