Though the culinary wonderland of Nostrand Avenue is dominated by Trinidadian, Guyanese, and Jamaican joints, other nations make cameo appearances. Right across the street from Jerk Palace, a Grenadian takeout, dangles Cock’s, one of New York’s rare eateries from the island of Barbados. The determined husband and wife who run the place are bent on presenting the full range of Bajan main courses, snacks, and baked goods. It isn’t one of those establishments where asking for something on the menu elicits, “Sorry, we’re out of that.”
The national dish of cou cou with flying fish ($10) is so good I ate the whole thing. Two fillets of this fine-grained aeronaut come festively draped across the molded mass of cornmeal porridge known as cou cou. Though inspired etymologically by couscous, this Bajan delight more closely resembles Ghanaian fufu. Another West African element is the flecks of okra that provide lubrication and make the stodge slide down easy. The red-tinged gravy is dotted with thyme and celery in a way that suggests the creole cooking of Haiti and New Orleans. Ask for Cock’s homemade scotch bonnet sauce, but apply sparingly—it’s lethal.
Another specialty is puddin and souse. The latter is a fresh pickle of pig face, tail, and trotter. Each particular porcine part has its enthusiastic adherents. I prefer the damped crunch of the ear cartilage, though the silky smoothness of the lips is not to be missed. For connoisseurs, a cow version is also offered. The puddin part is inspired by both English blood pudding and Scottish haggis. It’s a sausage casing stuffed with white sweet potato, spices, and fat. If you’re a diehard fan of Cajun boudin, puddin is as close as you’re going to come in Brooklyn. Puddin and souse jumble together in a light vinaigrette heaped with a fresh relish of cucumber, cilantro, and onion. The concoction is served slightly chilled, and it’s hard to imagine a more summery combination.
There are other tasty dishes, too, like a rich, herby pork stew and a jerk chicken that one-ups most of the Jamaican places in the neighborhood. But the indomitable good humor of the Bajans comes through most in the baked goods, which former islanders line up on the weekends to acquire. That’s when Cock’s sells the meltingly soft “sweet bread,” cylindrical rolls veined with sugary brown coconut stuffing. Available all week are firmer pastries like lead pipe ($3), a quartet of dough batons heavier than Led Zep. Just don’t drop one on your foot.
Replacing Pisces, a restaurant Zagat called “Le Bernardin for the budget set,” LE ZOCCOLE (95 Avenue A, 212-260-6660) is a project of the gang that brought us Chelsea’s Venetian trattoria Le Zie. The present premises are nominally dedicated to the propagation of cicchetti, the northern Italian answer to Spanish tapas: short dishes of octopus, artichokes, beans, pickled fresh sardines, etc., pleasantly reeking of garlic and olive oil. The combination of 10 or more dishes is an excellent deal at $15.95, perfect snack food to go with the well-chosen and relatively inexpensive wine list.
It is no accident that former butcher shop LA PORTENA (74-25 37th Avenue, Queens, 718-458-8111) is now the city’s favorite Argentine eatery. The proprietors combine an indefatigable love of beef with an insider’s knowledge of how to acquire it. The mixed grill is too huge to be negotiated; you’re better off cherry-picking the best cuts, including perfect skirt steak, well-grilled short ribs, and some of the loamiest blood sausage around. Homesick for Texas? You’ll find the breaded cutlet that bears the restaurant’s name is a dead ringer for chicken fried steak. But bring your own gravy.