For a century and counting, New York Jews have had the carbohydrates-and-smoked-fish game on lock. Few are the mornings not improved by bagels and bialys embellished with downy whitefish salad or thick slices of sturgeon. But ever since spending $3 on a pair of herring turnovers at Grandchamps, a cheery Haitian café and grocery approaching its first anniversary in Bed-Stuy, I’m convinced that the city’s lox luminaries — your Russes; your Greengrasses — should consider booking trips to the Caribbean.
The baked and browned patties, which chef Shawn Brockman sources from Baker’s Treat in Flatbush, feature colorful chiles mixed in with shreds of smoked herring as pungent as kippered salmon; the whole thing is folded into triangles of flaky puff pastry. Other turnovers, fashioned into squares or rectangles, are made with beef, chicken, spinach, and salt cod. They’re great snacks for all hours — convenient, since they’re available throughout the day.
Brockman, a bespectacled Midwesterner with over a decade of kitchen experience, cooks plenty of Haitian food himself — a skill he acquired after falling in love. He owns Grandchamps with his wife, Sabrina, whose family hails from the northern coastal city of Cap-Haïtien (her maiden name is also the restaurant’s). It was her relatives, primarily her mother, Françoise Grandchamps, who taught him “at home and without recipes,” he tells the Voice. If his kreyol sauce is any indication, the man is a star pupil — its tomato base is seasoned with garlic, scallions, fresh peppers, and lemon and lime juices. Here, it’s used for both a bone-in chicken stew and a shrimp sauté that Brockman suffuses, north-Haitian style, with boiled cashews. To honor his mentor for Mother’s Day weekend, he served specials of conch stew and joumou, a squash soup with celebratory roots tracing back to Haitian independence.
At Grandchamps, the appearance of side dishes can prompt moments of silence. There are vinaigrette-laced watercress salads and shatter-crisp fried plantains. For $4, you can fill up comfortably on mayi moulin and sos pwa — buttery cornmeal grits accompanied by a cup of velvety black-bean sauce. The latter also does a fine job perking up plain white rice. Brockman confides that nailing the seasoning and texture for his rice and beans “took some practice,” and it shows. (He adds red kidney beans and cloves to the mix.) Ditto riz djon-djon, an earthy, slightly sour heap of rice cooked in black mushroom tea. Another regional northern recipe, it’s a delightfully paradoxical dish that looks dull but blooms with each funky forkful.
Much of Grandchamps’s multipurpose lunch-and-dinner menu is devoted to Haiti’s pan-fried meats. All of them — pork shoulder, turkey legs, and bone-in goat — receive the same lively marinade that builds upon epis, a classic Haitian mash of spices, herbs, onions, citrus juices, and peppers. The turkey and goat come as part of main-course plates with your choice of rice and a daily vegetable, or in fritai, an appetizer sampler that also features sweet-potato fries, pressed plantains, and sticky fritters made with cocoyam, a relative of taro. Pork griot also anchors a list of sandwiches, the juicy chopped pork shoved between ciabatta with sweet plantains and remoulade. It’s excellent with pikliz, the fiery, coleslaw-like national condiment made of vinegar-soaked chiles, cabbage, and carrots. The version here doesn’t skimp on the scotch bonnet peppers.
The Brockmans live near their airy, yellow-tile-lined corner spot, and more than half of their staff also have ties to the neighborhood. Since they opened last summer, they’ve remained committed to serving the community. Haitian drip coffee graciously costs $1. In addition to several pantry staples (coffee filters, soy sauce), retail shelves along the back wall hold local products, like spicy nut butters. Customers order at a counter up front and fetch soft drinks, including Haitian Cola Lacaye, themselves. Soon, a cashier says, they hope to fill the fridge with Haitian beers. Sabrina, who showcases work from the area’s Haitian artists and musicians, is keen to share some conscientious goals. “Seventeen of our eighteen employees are minorities; half are women,” she says, adding that “some of our line cooks had no experience before joining.”
Framed in his semi-open kitchen, Shawn shows a respect for his staff that’s perceptible even during the rush of service. Another line cook, Florette Denasty, has been instrumental in the restaurant’s development. In the past, she’s suggested specials like a curried goat better than any the Brockmans had tasted before, and she recently added a hearty platter of salt cod and fried dumplings for breakfast. Denasty is also responsible for two stealthily luxe bread puddings: pain patate and pain mais. Made with sweet potatoes and corn flour respectively, both are enriched with coconut and condensed milks. Shawn’s dessert, a riff on bananas Foster that finds rum-flambéed sweet plantains under scoops of Bed-Stuy’s own Lady Moo-Moo ice cream, is plenty sweet. What he and Sabrina have done with Grandchamps in the past year is sweeter still.
197 Patchen Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-484-4880
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 31, 2016