Les Cayes, 1067 Nostrand Avenue (between Lincoln Road and Lefferts Avenue) (718) 467-6875
ocated on a colorful stretch of Nostrand Avenue populated by bodegas, one-room churches and daycare centers is Les Cayes, a Haitian grocery-cum-restaurant that doesn’t give up its secrets easily.
A neon sign out front advertises “Haitian Food to Take Out,” and inside the store is a narrow room stocked with two aisles of ingredients like bags of cassava flour, cans of pigeon peas and piles of yams.
But Les Cayes rewards the curious (or hungry) soul who continues to the back of the store with an eatery. Inside a tiny, bright red room with two tables, Les Cayes’s cook, a soft-spoken, middle-aged woman, works her magic behind a small steam table.
Here, she turns out fluffy white rice with kidney beans, or diri kole ak pwa in Creole; legim, a thick vegetable stew made with mashed eggplant, cabbage, spinach, peppers and carrots; stewed chicken in a rich, tomato-based sauce and topped with slivers of raw onion; and a host of other dishes such as cow’s foot soup and fried pork. A plate of rice and beans with the two main dishes of the day could easily feed two people and costs $8.
01. Rice & Peas
Haitian food, which reflects a mix of French and African influences, is not spicy or highly seasoned like dishes from other areas in the Caribbean such as Jamaica or Trinidad. Dishes tend to be soupy or stewy, mildly spiced, and comforting. Boiled starches such as unripe plantain, yam or breadfruit help ensure that meals are filling.
Les Cayes is named after the port town in southwestern Haiti where its owners, two brothers, hail from. The brothers can often be found in the front of the store, explaining the difference between manioc, cassava and yucca (there isn’t one) or revealing what the suspicious-looking packets of pink flesh in the freezer case are (papaya). If you eat something you really like at Les Cayes, the brothers just might tell you how to make it from the ingredients sold in the store.