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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop

In NYC, “Ali” is to Trinidadian roti what “Ray” is to Pizza: the go-to name. But don't be fooled, friend. Not all Ray's are “original,” and not every Ali was created equal. Take Ali of Fulton Street. His business card reads “Not Affiliated With Any Other Ali Roti Stores,” and we sympathize. This Ali wants to stand alone, because this Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop is a cut above its Brooklyn competition.Ali's appeal starts with the space: sunny in the summers and cozy in cooler weather. The scent of savory curries and the buzz of a loyal, patient clientèle foster a welcoming, lackadaisical vibe. They even keep a few tables with mismatched chairs, enough to seat you, your friends, and all the roti you can polish.Consider starting with a doubles. Trinidad's least photogenic street food is also its most celebrated, and Ali's rendition didn't let us down. He stuffs unusually light and chewy fried dough with chickpea curry, a delicious concoction whose nice dark color and rich tangy flavor reveal a welcomed restraint with the coconut milk.
Chicken Curry ...
... and Shrimp with Spinach

Leave some room in the tank, tho; Ali's roti are a course worthy of the title “main.” The shells are fresh and spongy, with a thin layer of peas providing solid dahl flavor. And the fillings have never disappointed. Chicken Curry is the most popular amongst regulars, and we certainly appreciated the terrific mix of meat parts (tender boneless chunks, but also moist legs and sumptuous shoulders) slow-stewed in a delicious, mildly seasoned sauce. This is supremely comforting food, if nothing neat to eat.

For a more manageable option consider the Shrimp Roti. We always order ours “easy on the potatoes” with Spinach. It's an addictive, impressively buoyant combination for a dish that (at lesser spots) sinks something heavy in the stomach. Although we've been stuck on this mix since summer, Ali personally recommended we branch out to the liver or oxtail as well. So more adventurous readers take note; two red-blooded options await.
Wild Style Menu

If the stars are aligned, you might even wash everything down with a drink. Let me emphasize the word if. Ali's beverages sound like old school rappers – Double Trouble, P-Nut Punch, Busta, T.Dad OJ, Solo, Agony, and (token white boy?) Irish Moss – but I have yet to see a single one in-stock. Having only sampled the Mauby and Sorrel, I fear the drink menu is largely decorative. Either that or the cool things go fast. One patron gave the Peanut Punch high marks, but we have yet to sample it firsthand.
The Mellow Fellow: Ali breaks down his culinary charm

We can, however, vouch for the man himself. In a phrase, Ali exudes the Relaxing Spirit of Roti. He took some time to shoot the breeze, and gave us a history of the changing Fulton neighborhood; his 15+ years at the current location; his expansion from occupying a small space in back to taking over the entire storefront; his work as an engraver and graphic artist (note all the fly signs); his love of Halal meats, which he buys daily from 3 or 4 trusted local butchers; his emphasis on freshness, delicacy of seasoning, and consistency in quality.
Nuts N' Pins

These high standards – fresh, healthy, delicious – are what keep the people coming back for more. And Ali's family works hard to satisfy, trimming meats, preparing curries, and creating flavorful dishes on the daily. It's a harmonious experience, and one that reflects the truly mild style of the chefs and their creations.

As for how Ali keeps this flavor train rolling year after year? One simple mantra: “You have to be cool.” And that about says it, good reader. Cool Ali's is #1 in the hood, g. It's why we keep heading back for more, and why we suggest you do the same.

Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop
1267 Fulton Street, Brooklyn
(718) 783-0316

Open til the food runs out, every day except Sunday. Late afternoon/early evening ensures greatest variety of offerings.

Roti are around $6 or $7; doubles $1; drinks $2


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A & A Bake & Doubles Shop

I heard A & A Bake & Doubles Shop was good; royally good. Or so hinted all the “Doubles King” signs outside this tiny Nostrand storefront. The King, eh? Well crown me curious.

Alas, on first visit we arrived to an empty store. A & A was without food, having sold out of everything before 5 pm. “Come back earlier,” suggested an apologetic employee. So I did, at around 4 pm on another day... to similar results. And my first weekend visit? Locked doors and lights shut, an impromptu holiday.

You know the old dilemma, friend... Rejection stokes desire. At this point there wasn't a food on earth more tempting than the doubles and bakes of A & A Bake & Doubles. I wasn't even sure what a “bake” was, but I knew I wanted one. So I did the unthinkable: one Saturday morning I set my alarm to radio and buzzer, hauled out of bed, and headed down to see what the King had in store for this hungry vassal.
King At Work: Doubles at the speed of light

Let's start with A & A's specialty, doubles: two fried pieces of chickpea-flour flatbread, stuffed with curried chickpeas, sweet tamarind and hot chili sauce. The net effect is a tangy, spicy, messy mini-pancake of love. A & A's curry is solid, thick and mildly seasoned. And unless warned, they go a bit heavy with the tamarind. But all this is secondary; these doubles are defined by their shells, thin, chewy, and extremely toothsome. The taste and texture imparts a uniquely homemade flavor, and probably explains why people seem to order by the half-dozen; it's a satisfying eat, and one just isn't enough.
Bake with salmon & cabbage

The other half of A&A's menu is dedicated to bake: puffy, golden, fried dough sandwiches stuffed with your choice of goodness. Consider the addictive chopped smoked herring. It tastes like BBQ, chews like jerky, and comes studded with spicy onions. The salmon (above) presents a light, moist alternative, especially good with a dollop of sauteed cabbage. So experiment and enjoy. No matter the combo, each ingredient – from pureed pumpkin to salt cod – proved fresh and tasty. And at $2.00 (50 cents more per add-on), you'd have to be pretty grouchy not to appreciate this for what it is: a great Flavor Deal.
A & A Royalty: Noel & Geeta rule, benevolently!

A & A's owner Noel was an architect in Trinidad, which is ironic. Not because I doubt his design skills, but only because his store is comically cramped, maybe 1/3 the size of the kitchen itself. Which speaks to his priorities: good fresh food made daily, and sold at cheap prices to a loyal clientèle. So if you plan on paying the king a visit, expect to order take-away. Don't let the long, snaking line deter you (it moves fast)... and make sure you arrive while they still have some food.
Strictly Business: No Smoking, Just Ordering

By Noel's description, the doubles scene in Trinidad is extremely competitive. But Brooklyn isn't lacking in Caribbean options, and A & A has carved a serious rep in 5 years of operations. As to what sets them apart, I'd have to go with their dough. They sell 100s of bakes and “a lot more” doubles each day, largely on the strength of its fresh-made flavor. Thus goes the royal style; anyone looking for that authentic Trinidadian flavor best bow down.

A & A Bake & Doubles Shop
a/k/a “The Doubles King”
481 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn
(718) 230-0753

The pricing encourages overeating. Doubles go for $1, bake is $2.

Open daily except Sundays, from very early 'til they run out of food (3-ish on weekdays, later on Saturdays; but call ahead to be sure)


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hott Dawgz

The Slab was on location at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show this week. Congrats to Uno, the delightful, entertaining card game Beagle who took home Best in Show. Below are a few other Hott Dawgz that caught our eye...Pippin (above) likes to relax with a tray of fresh-baked liver brownies.
But the life of an Old English Sheepdog involves more than eating. Mariah (above) requires over 8 hours of primping to get her fluff on. (Mariah is the dog, not the guy.)Speaking of hair, it must be super irritating if you own a Puli (black) or Komondor (white) and have to field a constant wave of rasta/mop/etc. “jokes.” But Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo “Ebony and Ivory” references? Comedy.Along those lines, some jokes never get old. And by “some” I mean “hot dog.” Hot dogs are funny. Dachshunds look like hot dogs. Ergo, Dachshunds are funny. And this Standard Smooth o.g. Phineas was no exception. He's more of a tube grilled steak enthusiast, but at the venerable age of 7 he can damn well eat what he likes. Especially if he lets me call him something old school, like MC Smoov Weiner.The Basset Hound is another breed rife with low-slung humor. This handsome chap played it close to the vest, unlike...Black Jack (above). “He's a real love bug,” the handler confided. From my vantage, “sexual offender” was more apropos. I watched him mount three separate women in the space of 90 seconds, thereby putting an emphatic “long” in “love you long time.”
With a height to match his length, Logan the Great Dane brought far less frisk to the mix. This Wisconsin boy spent about a year with his ears taped (to stiffen the cartilage). Now he enjoys staring quizzically and eating sharp cheeses.
Woofer the St. Bernard had his own look down. He took home Best of Breed, along with the hearts of every photographer in a 50 yard radius. He was also in a straight-to-DVD Disney movie called Snow Buddies (tagline: “They're snow cool!”; extremely disturbing preview here).
As one of four new breeds entered in this year's show, Sparky also received his fair share of attention. This peppy Swedish Vallhund loves lemon pepper chicken, and looks like a dachshund/shepherd lovechild.
As for German Shepherds, here goes a local Long Island boy. Someone stepped on his foot (much to the owner's delight), but it didn't seem to slow him down. He was too busy dreaming of raw steak and knucklebones.
Alas, not every animal exuded such resilience. Don't get me wrong, I love all most some creatures great and small; but I'd be hard-pressed to leave my house with anything dressed like this Yorkshire Terrier. I'm guessing its favorite foods are “Special K” and “water with lemon.”
Speaking of diets, I spent a good 10 minutes trying to cajole the owners of these Polish Lowland Sheepdogs into revealing how much kielbasa their dogs ate. Until I found out these dogs were actually French Briards. Which might help explain why said grouchy owners had no idea what kielbasa was. (Might.)
Sticking with the humorless theme, I wandered over to a large group of Very Serious Russian Women and their totally unserious Black Russian Terriers. These are mighty impressive canines, none more so than the charming Lizaveta. Bred in Russia and shown throughout Europe, she now leads a life of American leisure and fame. BRTs were border guards in the motherland, purportedly (and I quote) “bred to take a man down.” But I remain suspect. The only thing Lizaveta did was kill me... with cuteness! !!!!!!! !!! !!!!!!
A dog by any other name? This one unites the comfort of a premium mattress with the deliciousness of smoked meat. Yes, good reader, Grace is a Sealyham Terrier. And our exclusive interview with her owner went something like this... Slab: does Grace eat ham? Owner: yes. Slab: what type of ham? Owner: all kinds. (Awkward silence) Owner: and she sleeps on a Sealy mattress. We used to own a furniture store, and... Slab: Black forest ham? Virginian? Owner: I guess she prefers sugar cured. (Riveting!)I had less luck squeezing info out of Duncan the Bulldog, whose non-traditional good looks and true grit were matched only by his bullish reticence. Secret Agent Dog, I hardly knew ye.
Goofy Newfoundland, I've always dug thee. As Phil Hartman put it, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to appreciate Seamus (above). In case I had any doubts, his owner busted out a pic of him cuddling with a kitten in his lap.
Ernie the Clumber Spaniel was another mellow fellow, a baguette, spaghetti and pineapple enthusiast with cute to spare.
Kinda like this Bernese Mountain Dog... She so pretty!And old friend Mastiff is so sleepy. Like us. Hot Dogs galore, and we're ready for a nap.

Back next Tuesday on the search for delicious!

–J. Slab

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Ham Of The Month! Ham Of The Month!

We're unveiling a new section at The 'Chop. It's called, uh, Ham Of The Month. Pretty self-explanatory.

Here are some alternate names that didn't make the cut:
  • Ham Master J's
  • Wham, Ham, thank you Ma'am
  • EAT FARHTs (Everyone And Their Friends Are Redoubtable Ham Tasters)
  • ShazzzHam!
As for the Ham... inaugural report on its way later this evening!