Robert Sietsema is My God (and Elaine, Too) New York City Entry #83 Cock's
Before my relocation to New York, my religiosity was rusty. I was a jack Unitarian. But now I have a God of my own device: Robert Sietsema, the restaurant critic of the Village Voice and author of The Food Lover's Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City. Every night before bed, I read a few chapters and verses, and carry the writ close to my heart. (Would it hurt if Thy future revelations included cross-streets?) Because if you must have Bajan food, what are you going to do?
And I must have Bajan food. Although there are worse ways to spend a weekend than organizing an all-Carribean tour, Sietsema's three star recommendations more than suffice. For food from Barbados, we are directed to Cock's, located on a busy stretch of Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn's Crown Heights.
Cock's is a small, modestly decorated store front, presided over by Elaine, the excellent Bajan cook. (The restaurant is run by husband and wife). Our party of six constituted the only diners of the evening, although a stream of customers came in for take-out. Although Sietsema claimed (in 2003) that the restaurant serves everything on the menu ("It isn't one of those establishments where asking for something on the menu elicits, ‘Sorry, we're out of that'"), this was not true on the weekday night we visited (so much for inerrancy!). Roti, conkies, and puddin and souse (pig face) were not available, although we were told that many of the absent dishes were prepared on the weekend.
Our party ordered family style, receiving a banquet for a mere $85.00. The finest dish of the evening - and surely one of the most miraculous of my stay - was Flying Fish with Coo Coo (and potatoes). The fish was expertly fried with a complex, spiced sauce. If only Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert could learn to fry fish with such divinity. Coo coo is a mass of buttery cornmeal porridge with hints of okra, resembling the best of polentas. We fought over the final bits of fish. This was a theological dish. Amen Elaine, amen Sietsema.
While other dishes did not reach the soaring taste of fish, several were excellent. I particularly cherished the Cow Foot Soup (yup!) made with Provision, a mix of green banana, yam, and potato. Both oxtail and curried chicken were very creditable versions of these standards. At the end of the meal we were served fried cod balls, excellent cakes that would have been consumed with more gusto at the start of the evening. We also enjoyed an tasty salt fish (cod) stew, although the first few bites were the most compelling.
Less successful was a somewhat dry jerk chicken and a pork stew. Rice and pigeon peas was standard, comparable to what might be found at most Afro-Carribean restaurants.
As canonical as the flying fish was our serving of mauby, an ecstatically bittersweet drink from the bark of the mauby tree, mixed with sugar cane, cinnamon, and perhaps some anise. The drink starts candy sweet, but hits with a powerful and demanding bitter aftertaste. As the aftertaste struck, one needed another slug of sweet juice. Mauby is the roller coaster of pops.
Cock's also prepares a blazing hot sauce available on request: peppers (Scotch Bonnet, I believe), Turmeric, Lime Juice, and Dry Mustard. It had heated, but the turmeric, mustard, and lime provided a richness than mere Scoville units cannot provide.
We tried several cakes and cookies. My choice is the Current cake, fruity and syrupy, but I also enjoyed the Sugar Cake, a caloric coconut confection, colored red as velvet cake. Lead pipe is a heavy cookie-cake with a nutmeg-cinnamon flavor, the result we were told of a cook neglecting to add yeast in her dough (recommended for Passover!). This error produced pastries that are a local favorite, exemplifying the Bajan proverb, "Every Mistake is a Fashion." Fashion it may be, but I found it heavy and dry, although I plan to soak the remainder in a cup of tea. Cute name, though.
I bend my head in veneration of those blessed sprites who make my life happier, fuller, and fatter. To discover Cock's - and many other off-center establishments, hidden in plain sight - make me realize how much I depend on the pointers and obsessions of eccentric strangers. Elaine is a culinary treasure. Perhaps her treasure hunter isn't supernatural, but the Food Lover's Guide comes damn close to intelligent design.
806 Nostrand Avenue (near Eastern Parkway)
Brooklyn (Crown Heights)
4 weeks ago