Let’s assume, for a moment, that blatant, vicious police brutality perpetrated against black people has only recently compelled you to put a shoulder to the stalled, sputtering Greyhound bus that is America on the seemingly interminable, blood-smeared highway to the achievement of truer racial and social justice. While there are several ways to get the leaden beast to budge, one in particular allows for march-sore feet to pause in their labor, if only for a moment – while putting several long dead, rich white men to work.
Those who delight in a little cheap irony, then, may consider opening their wallets to let flow into the coffers of black-owned businesses a green stream of Benjamins, Lincolns, Washingtons, Grants, Hamiltons, Jacksons and – most definitely – Jeffersons. Because if there’s one thing Americans know, it’s that economic strength translates better than any other to political power.
While black-owned businesses proliferate more heavily in neighboring Bed Stuy, Bushwick, too, is home to several. And, even considering this article’s narrow focus – food & drink – the range of options they provide is considerable. (That being said, we’ve still padded the piece with a few spots located just over the Broadway Ave border.)
The first of several cafes on this list actually has locations in both neighborhoods (as well as one in Ridgewood, Queens). All three Milk & Pull locations are barista-orientated cafes through and through, with the standard milky stimulants rounded out by a small menu of bagel sandwiches and baked goods.
There’s no mistaking the raison d’etre of another black-owned cafe in the area, Brooklyn Barista, on Wyckoff Avenue; not likely to be mistaken for a taxidermist. The coffee is bracing and hot (unless it’s iced, very likely in the coming months) and the sandwiches hearty, set on thick wooden boards branded with decorative flourishes and the store name.
Technically in Williamsburg, coffee shop Bushwick Grind merits inclusion, I suppose, for its name and its proximity to Bushwick Avenue. It pairs jolts of caffeine with art and community-forwardness – and further gilds the lily with a menu of breakfast and lunch staples: brunchers can sink comfortably into a pillowy egg benedict or opt for less-typical jerk shrimp tacos, while sandwiches dominate the lunch menu (tuna melt, grilled chicken pesto panino, jerk chicken panino).
Meanwhile, if all this coffee talk has you yearning for something saccharine to balance the bitter, drop in on Sofia & Grace Cookie Company. The shop whacks out an astonishing variety of its namesake: yes, there’s chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, but you’re better served eschewing those pedestrian standbys for lemon Oreo, sweet potato w/ marshmallow, dulce de leche, snickerdoodle, red velvet, caramel pecan, BLUE velvet, pumpkin, butterfingers and an irresistible-sounding PB&J.
Like Bushwick Grind – not quite of the neighborhood, but still neighborhood adjacent – Bed Stuy Fish Fry and Grandchamps sit just two blocks from each other and a mere five minute walk into Bed Stuy from Broadway. Grandchamps, while it contains a couple of concessions to mainstream expectations, specializes mainly in Haitian food. Those unfamiliar with the island’s cuisine (i.e., this writer) may find language like “tasso de cabrit,” “griot” and “sos” bewildering (fried goat, marinated and braised pork, sauce, respectively) but they’d be fools to turn tail on the basis of linguistic intimidation. Neighboring Bed Stuy Fish Fry’s name, meanwhile, isn’t idly worn: headlining the menu are fish & chips, fried whiting & chips, shrimp & fish & chips and fried catfish with mac n cheese. If all that fails to cow your lust for hapless, crispily battered aquatic lurkers, there’s also fried lobster tails, crab cakes and a mixed seafood fry.
Basically a greasily seductive mainline to the brain’s pleasure center, little of what the fish mongers at Bed Stuy Fish Fry offer seems likely to help steer you away from a premature residency in the silent meadows of any one of the many cemeteries that stain Brooklyn a somber shade of green from here to Sunset Park. The Reaper may choose to stay his scythe, though, for those who frequent Bunna Cafe, a Bushwick favorite on Flushing Avenue that specializes in vegan (and therefore, presumably, healthy) Ethiopian food and live music. Unassuming from the outside, in better times it’s a lively party with the best fork-less food in Bushwick (njera, a gluten free, subtly sour and spongy bread, is plate, fork, napkin and conversation piece all in one).
If you prefer your vegan food accompanied by less clamor (no matter how joyful), Sol Sips, which bills itself on Instagram as “wholesome, quality plant-based nourishment,” waits for you on Wilson Avenue between Stockholm and Stanhope. While even for a vegan the word “nourishment” may come off as a little dystopian and utilitarian, soylent green is nowhere in sight. Instead, eaters can expect both health and comfort. Menu items may need air quotes when recited out loud, just to avoid any misapprehensions; there’s the “chicken” biscuits, for instance, the “cheesy” garlic sticks, and, for the grand finale, the “bacon” “egg” and “cheese.” For these and other dishes, animal protein is stealthily swapped out in favor of oyster mushrooms (in the case of chicken), tempeh (in the case of bacon), chickpeas (in the case of eggs) and coconut (in the case of cheese).
For the time being, Sol Sips is only open for regular dining three days a week; the remaining time is spent dedicated to feeding, free-of-charge, street protestors.
Much respect to Sol Sips – for its demonstrated commitment to the community, of course – but also for succeeding so creatively in attempting to beat animal protein at its own game (for the sake of diplomacy we’ll call it a draw).
Nevertheless, this article’s last word goes to Hills Kitchen, a Nigerian restaurant in the heart of Bushwick. Concerning its cuisine, no quotes necessary: while not for the entirely carnivorous, the menu amply features land animals (goat, beef and chicken), with most dishes rounded out with a vegetable (okra, spinach, “bitter leaf”) and filling West African staples like jollof rice, pounded yam and garri, a cassava-based starch. You can find the restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue right across the street from Maria Hernandez Park, which has become a meeting point for rallies and marches – both of which, as of this writing, have been boisterous and peaceful.
All the above-mentioned businesses are available for take-out and delivery, as usual. However, delivery is, for the majority of them, handled by Grubhub and the like, who take a hefty 30% off the top for their service. To best support local, black-owned businesses, therefore, better to cut out the middleman and order direct for pickup if and when you can.
Milk & Pull
181 Irving Ave., Bushwick
307 Malcolm X Blvd., Bed Stuy
778 Seneca Ave., Ridgewood, Queens
Hours: 8 am – 3 pm daily, all locations
880 Wyckoff Ave.
Hours: 8:30 am – 4 pm, Monday – Friday; 9 am – 4pm, Saturday & Sunday
63 Whipple St.
Hours: 7 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday; 9 am – 5 pm, Saturday & Sunday
Sofia & Gracie Cookie Company
163 Ralph Ave.
Hours: 10 am – 5 pm, Tuesday – Thursday; 10 am – 6:30 pm, Friday & Saturday; Sunday & Monday closed.
197 Patchen Ave.
Hours: 12 – 9 pm everyday
Bed Stuy Fish Fry
801 Halsey St.
Hours: 11 am – 11 pm, Monday – Thursday; 11 am – 12 am, Friday & Saturday
1084 Flushing Ave.
Hours: 12 pm – 9 pm, Wednesday – Friday; 11 am – 9 pm, Saturday – Monday; Tuesday closed
203 Wilson Ave.
Hours: 12 pm – 7 pm, Thursday – Saturday.
252 Knickerbocker Ave.
Hours: 10 am – 10 pm, everyday