To find Bed-Stuy’s newest Caribbean restaurant, head down Tompkins Avenue until you smell the smoke. Wadadli A.M., a small cafe that opened in Bed-Stuy this summer, starts smoking its meats around 9:30 a.m. most mornings. Why so early? “I can wait on my customers,” says owner Edwin Hughes, “but my customers can’t wait on me.” It’s that — and, well, the jerk chicken and waffles he recently started serving have become one of the most popular breakfast items on the menu.
Hughes, who almost everyone in the neighborhood calls “Brods,” has been popping up outside of the Bed-Vyne cocktail bar for the last four years. Before the pandemic, his aluminum takeout containers of jerk chicken and escovitch fish fueled late-night parties that spilled out on the sidewalk on weekends. He took a break during lockdown, then relit the grills with a vengeance and decided to double down on Wadadli, a pop-up he named after the indigenous name for the island of Antigua.
When it came time to find a permanent home for the cafe, Hughes didn’t have to look far. He opened next door to Bed-Vyne at 370 Tompkins Avenue, technically along Putnam Avenue, in June. He was only open on weekends until last month, when he expanded the cafe’s hours and started serving his smoked meats and seafood, occasionally over waffles and grits with maple syrup, every day except Monday.
The cafe is no wider than the two oil drum grills parked on its sidewalk, but Hughes and his team are churning out some 750 pounds of chicken each week. Each of those pieces marinates for up to three days, he says, before slow-cooking over charcoal out front for around an hour. An order comes with rice and peas, plantains, a couple of lettuce leaves, and a squirt of jerk of scotch bonnet sauce ($13).
That charred chicken is the star, but the menu has grown over the years to include escovitch fish — a pan-fried red snapper that’s only sold on weekends — and now a menu of new dishes that Hughes says help fill a void for Caribbean brunch in the neighborhood. Until 5 p.m. each day, catch him dishing out orders of shrimp and grits, jerk chicken and waffles, and ackee and saltfish in aluminum containers. Hard dough, a sweetish white bread that’s baked downstairs each morning, comes as a side with most brunch items.
Almost all of the cafe seating is out front at benches and picnic tables. With fall on the horizon, Hughes is deferring to a rule that’s governed his outdoor pop-up for years: “As long as it’s over 40 degrees, we’ll be out there grilling,” he says. Until then, catch Wadadli on Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Thursday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.