Chef and restaurateur Osei Blackett is breaking up a prevailing narrative of Caribbean food — one that’s dominated by Jamaican classics like jerk chicken or beef patties — with a spotlight on homestyle meals from his native Trinidad and Tobago. With dishes like curries and bhaji (leafy greens in coconut milk) as well as ingredients like coconut, cumin, and cassava that reflect the West African, Indian, and indigenous influences on the cuisine, Ariapita opens at 1197 Flatbush Avenue, near Avenue D, in Flatbush, Brooklyn on Friday, November 18.
“You won’t find jerk here,” Blackett says. “Caribbean food is so much more than that.” While Jamaican Americans more than double Trinbagonian Americans in NYC, the latter community has carved a niche with cuisine that culminates from the two-island nation’s colonial and migration history: Head to Trinciti, Ali’s Trinbago Roti Shop, and Trinidad Golden Place in the Caribbean enclaves of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and Flatbush in Brooklyn, as well as Richmond Hill and Ozone Park in Queens.
Now, inside Ariapita’s turquoise walls, the former Negril Village cook is churning out his own renditions of Trinbagonian food from his childhood. In his version of crab and dumplings, which his family used to cook with whole blue land crabs, he simmers chunks of crab meat in a curry paste of cumin, garlic, thyme, and ginger, and adds Caribbean-style dumplings without the stuffing. He kneads a dough of flour, coconut milk, and water into a disc, and cuts that into quarters to sop up the curry.
For his stewed fish, a highlight of his family’s Friday night dinners, he marinates a whole fish — yellowtail snapper, red snapper, or branzino — in a traditional green seasoning of culantro, garlic, ginger, and thyme; dredges it in flour; deep-fries it; and finishes it off with a sweet and tart sauce of okra, carrots, tomatoes, ketchup, and coconut milk.
The restaurant’s bar, or D’ Rum Shop, pulls from his Trinbagonian home cooking, too. He transforms mango chow, typically a summertime snack of firm, half-ripened spiced mango slices into a sweet and spicy cocktail with Scotch bonnets and white rum.
Ariapita is Blackett’s second restaurant following his 2010 launch of Picky Eaters — which has since expanded to two locations in Flatbush — with a focus on Caribbean street foods like gyros and wings. But he wanted to relate back to his childhood experiences of hand-grating coconut and making mauby drinks made from the bark of a mauby tree, infused with cinnamon and clove.
His memories include partying down the main strip of Ariapita Avenue in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago’s capital. At Blackett’s Ariapita, the 22-seat dining space (with eight additional seats at the bar) will convert to an open dance floor with DJs spinning soca, dancehall, and hip-hop on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. He’s planning to offer free late-night snacks on Fridays starting in December.
Opening hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.