New ideas are bubbling up faster in vegan restaurants than any other type of cuisine right now. People who can’t see this are looking in the wrong places. They’re probably used to seeing creative leaps that started in kitchens that function as research labs, like Noma over the past decade and El Bulli before that, then spilled over into other restaurants.
But vegan cuisine doesn’t leak. It trickles. It was first a marginal regime, then a popular movement. These roots were eventually fertilized by advertising campaigns by animal rights groups. Now that well-funded companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Tyson Foods have “plant-based” products to promote, veganism has a marketing budget that PETA never dreamed of. Restaurants cannot lead this movement. They can barely keep up.
Often the owners and chefs of the new generation of plant-based restaurants are fairly recent converts themselves. Many seem to come out of nowhere or, more precisely, come from establishments that no one would describe as being on the cutting edge of the kitchen. They aren’t particularly interested in originality for itself, a core value for chefs working in the fine dining idiom. They are original by necessity, because they invent foods for appetites that did not exist five years ago.
Aunts and uncles, a cafe that Nicole and Michael Nicholas opened in the Little Caribbean neighborhood of central Brooklyn last October, looks like a number of new vegan hangouts open all day west of Greenpoint, Clinton Hill and Park Slope . Sunlight streams through a street-side glass wall, falling on fiddle-leaf fig trees and other Instagram-loved houseplants. There’s a pretty coral pink sofa, Mid-Century style molded plastic chairs in sea green, and a row of bent plywood stools at the counter.
Like these other coffees, Aunts and Uncles can make your latte with steamed oat or nut milk. It stands out from the crowd of avocado toast, however, with its Caribbean dishes, all of which have been relegated without goat, cod or any other animal.
Aunts et Uncles isn’t the first place to bring seafood together with hearts of palm. Using it to make pastries and salted fish, the restaurant offers a wonderful thing that gives the feeling of a new discovery.
In its original form, which can be found locally in a wide belt that begins on Fulton Street near Nostrand Avenue and continues south to Brooklyn College, the pastry and salt fish is a mixture of fried dough with salted cod which is sautéed in a soft mash with onions, tomatoes and strips of Scotch bonnet peppers. Sometimes bread and fish go hand in hand and sometimes, like at Aunts and Uncles, they come together in a sandwich.
The tangy accent of salt cod is absent, of course, from the aunts and uncles version. Hearts of palm (sustainably farmed, according to the restaurant) are not to be confused with other vegetables; instead, their sweetness and slight sweetness provide a respite from the Promethean sparkle of chili peppers.
What you do with the hearts of palm stuffed into a pretzel bun and sold as a lobster roll will depend on your ability to suspend disbelief. If you are successful, you will be able to enjoy the sweet seasoning of lemon, dill and celery. If you fail, you can focus on how much more you would spend on a real lobster roll than the $ 13 you would pay for the lobster-free one at Aunts and Uncles.
Right next door on Nostrand Avenue is the Immaculate Bakery, whose Haitian pâtés are an irresistible siren for both types of customers – those who call them pah-tays and those who ask for patties. While the yellow turmeric flat patties sold in street carts and pizzerias are likely descended from Cornish pâtés, Haiti’s pâté makers fold and roll high flaky puff pastry of French origin. The butter patties are a no-brainer, at least I thought they were.
The Nicholas asked the bakers of Immaculate to rework their dough without dairy products. They rose to the challenge magnificently. Which is sold, at $ 4 each, because the AU Immaculee Galette is a large, multi-layered golden pastry that can be even crispier than the original. It’s so good I wish it had a more convincing garnish than the slightly spicy Beyond Meat – veg, let’s say.
The meat substitute makes more sense as an optional supplement to aunts and uncles’ mofongo. I’m not sure if a mofongo can really be described as light, but this one comes close. Crushed and boiled green plantains are covered with chopped tomatoes, peppers and red onions; it is eaten less like a starchy side dish and more like a substantial salad.
The best use of Beyond Meat, however, is on something called the Tivoli taco, where it carries a heavy load of cumin and ground chili peppers. Spread on a flour tortilla and topped with tomatoes and onions, the Tivoli taco is unlike anything you might find in a Mexican taqueria. But you’ll recognize it if you’ve grown up in a house where taco night meant tossing ground beef with a supermarket spice blend, and there’s a good chance you thought that’s an improvement.
Mr. Nicholas was born and raised in Flatbush to parents with roots in Saint Lucia. Ms. Nicholas, his wife, grew up in Toronto in a family from Saint Vincent and the Trinity. Their home cooking experiences after adopting an animal-free diet almost five years ago laid the foundation for the menu at Aunts and Uncles, which they came up with in collaboration with Lesley Ann Regisford, a relative who sometimes works in the kitchen. .
The name Aunts and Uncles suggests an angle of guard in the reception and in the kitchen. People eat plant-based diets for many reasons, but black vegans often speak of their desire to reverse the negative health effects that a tangle of historical, economic, and other factors has brought to their community. In East Flatbush, for example, the community neighborhood served by aunts and uncles, rates of obesity and high blood pressure are higher than in New York City as a whole, according to city data. Although the science is not established, some studies have shown that switching to a vegan or mostly vegan diet can lead to weight loss and lower blood pressure.
No matter what you choose to eat when you are outside of Aunts and Uncles, you can feel like someone is taking care of you when you are inside. Once, as I walked in with my arms wrapped around a book, a cup of coffee, and some groceries I had picked up on my way to lunch, a waiter handed me a grocery bag. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I might have increased the loot by buying a Thank God T-shirt for Haiti designed by Mr. Nicholas. Or one of the books – “Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead or The photographs collected by Beth Lesser of the Jamaican dancehall scene in the 1980s were both tempting – displayed on one wall.
Instead, I bought a bowl of vegetable soup, seasoned island-style with fresh thyme, cilantro, and black dots of pepper. Like all good soups, this one seemed to want to please. I don’t know what this did to my weight, but I think I felt my blood pressure drop.
What the stars mean Due to the pandemic, restaurants are not receiving stars.