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New York’s Best New Restaurant Plots a Sequel

Ayo Balogun, the chef and owner behind Bed-Stuy’s Dept of Culture, pays tribute to pepper soup at a new restaurant

A Black man wearing a black shirt and clear glasses uses tweezers to place a piece of food onto one of several plates lined up on a table.
Ayo Balogun of Dept of Culture.
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY

There’s a new project on the way from Dept of Culture, the small Nigerian restaurant in Bed-Stuy restaurant that nabbed multiple awards within its first year of opening, including a best new restaurant nomination from the James Beard Foundation and a spot on Eater’s list of the best new restaurants in America.

At Dept of Culture, owner Ayo Balogun became known for his stories shared around a 12-seat communal table: stories about his grandmother, about Game of Thrones, about smuggling unpasteurized milk, about being a teetotaler. His new restaurant, named Radio Kwara, after the state radio station in Nigeria where his grandfather worked, is one of those stories. It opens in Clinton Hill at 291 Greene Avenue, near Classon Avenue, later this month.

“We need to represent more of our cuisine than suya,” Balogun says, referring to the spiced meat that served as an entry point for Nigerian cooking in America. “It’s delicious, but in a country of 220 million people, there are so many other foods.” The restaurant will put another dish in the spotlight — his version of pepper soup, the first course on the opening menu at Dept of Culture.

Balogun will offer the soup in three to four varieties, prepared in a row of pressure cookers from a small kitchen that served as the nine-month home of Brooklyn Hots, a restaurant that specialized in garbage plates. The chef is still ironing out specifics, but he says the dish will appear on a larger tasting menu with around seven courses. Like Dept of Culture, the 20-seat restaurant will likely be reservation only.

Radio Kwara borrows two sensibilities from Nigeria and one from Japan. Balogun wants the restaurant to feel like a buka, the casual cafes that are ubiquitous in Nigeria, but more specifically like a pepper soup joint, where neighbors settle in at the end of the night to listen to new records and eat soup and small chops, the name for Nigerian finger foods. He likens the concept to the Japanese listening bars popping up across the city.

The restaurant is the “American cousin” of Dept of Culture, he says. Nigerian at its heart, but influenced by the city it lives in. “Every Nigerian knows what that means,” he says. “It’s that American cousin that sends you Timberlands. Or the new Ice Cube CD.”