If you give him five minutes, Dexter Muir can turn a Jamaican beef patty into a personal pizza. He starts by prying open the pastry around the edges, like a shucked oyster, then lifts open the lid, like a steamed clam. The patty is already filled with ground beef, but Muir adds pepperoni and mozzarella cheese, too. He bakes the pastry, open-faced, in a convection oven. When the timer goes off, the patty is a pizza.
It’s one of several ways to dress-up a patty at Puffs Patties, a four-month-old restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Muir, who is Jamaican, grew up a few blocks from the shop. He’s been eating beef patties, with pepperoni and as is, his whole life. Now he’s making them on his own terms.
In a year of headlining hot dogs, croissants, and burritos, interesting things have been happening to Caribbean patties. A versatile hand pie that can be filled with almost anything — curried goat, meatloaf, salt fish, or split peas — is being made with everything.
The patty revolution is happening at wine bars, bakeries, and pizzerias. As any Caribbean chef can tell you, experimenting with patties isn’t new, but the level of popularity they’ve seen this year is. A new generation of multicultural chefs has turned the patty into a sensation by going beyond the usual fillings. They’re stuffing them with Texas-style barbecue and French brandades, mozzarella sticks and, yes, pepperoni and cheese.
You don’t have to look further than a bodega to know the patty is the dish of the year.
The patty is made differently across the Caribbean. There are meat pies made with shortcrust in Guyana, buttery stuffed pastries in Trinidad, and patties made from laminated dough in Haiti, to name a few.
The most popular patty in town comes from Jamaica. It’s shaped like a designer hand bag and is various shades of yellow: the result of turmeric or curry powder in the dough. In the 1970s, the Brooklyn food manufacturer Tower Isle’s brought Jamaican patties to pizza shops and school cafeterias. The beef patty became one of the city’s most widely eaten immigrant foods.
For Joshua Dat, the Guyanese owner of Datz Deli in Hollis, Queens, souped-up patties were a way for him to stand out from the thousands of corner stores in the borough. He started selling patties filled with macaroni and cheese. They were popular, but one of his customers turned them into a viral hit when they asked to add oxtail gravy, too.
The “mac patty” has a cross-section that’s engineered for social media. It comes wedged inside a piece of coco bread, a Jamaican bun made from coconut milk, for about $10. The sandwich is expected to make Dat and his family more than a million dollars this year.
It’s not just him. Across the city, enterprising chefs are amassing followings with patties that bend the rules. At Cuts and Slices, a popular pizzeria in Crown Heights, owner Randy Mclaren has sold patties with braised oxtail. In Red Hook, the bodega manager Rahim Mohamed makes patties “the Ocky Way” — with Doritos chips and hash browns.
Shirwin Burrowes, a Bajan chef who used to work at the Michelin-starred restaurant Uncle Boons, is known for his patties made with unconventional fillings, like slow-cooked short rib and Thai curry. After cooking in fine dining restaurants for years, he started Pops Patties during the pandemic.
Burrowes bakes patties in the downstairs kitchen of Winner on Franklin, a wine bar in Crown Heights. One of his most popular inventions is made by whipping together two West Indian staples — plantains and salt cod — in the style of a French brandade. “I wanted to do something that someone who is West Indian could recognize,” he says.
For all the innovation, the makings of a good patty haven’t budged. Shelley Worrell, the founder of the local group I Am Caribbeing, says to look out for a moist center that steams when it’s cracked open. The dough can be made with butter and shortening, or laminated like a croissant, but it has to be flakey when it comes out of the oven.
It’s not just patties being remixed. Caribbean chefs across the city are rethinking the staples of their cuisine. There are grilled cheese sandwiches that taste like Trinidadian doubles, pizzas topped with jerk chicken, and bowls of oxtail noodles.
“The creativity has always been there,” says Alex Bernard, a Guyanese pitmaster who’s put his barbecue in patties before. People are just finally paying attention.