A sermon is something that speaks to your soul and that’s exactly what my meal at The Food Sermon did.

For my first edition of Plantains Before Love, we dined at The Food Sermon, a quaint first come first serve seating Caribbean restaurant nestled in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Upon immediate entry the restaurant was aesthetically pleasing! The simple décor and wooden benches were reminiscent of a local restaurant on a tropical island with beautiful white tiles lining the walls to add a modern twist. Through the speakers played old school calypso and classic island tunes my father would love.

Now onto the reason why we’re here…the food! The menu is build your own bowl style with the basics: a meat, rice, beans, and gravy. The meat options are lamb, jerk chicken, salmon, and tofu for the non-meat eaters. Rice options are brown and white rice. Beans are red beans and chickpeas with either a bold coconut ginger sauce or a spicy tomato sauce to complete the bowl.

For my bowl I had the jerk chicken with white rice, red beans, and spicy tomato sauce! By the time we ordered the dinner rush had started so the cashier did warn us there would be a thirty-minute wait but we are absolutely okay with that. One of my fellow Food Before Love insiders had visited The Food Sermon before and assured me it was well worth the wait.

Our meals came in a little less than the expected thirty minutes, piping hot and plated to perfection. The bowls were assembled picture perfectly just as displayed on their site.

Jerk Chicken Bowl with White Rice, Red Beans, and Tomato Sauce

After taking my picture I dug in and was immediately satisfied! The jerk chicken was actual jerk chicken and not a poor imitation that unfortunately is too common nowadays. It was made with a jerk season versus jerk sauce. So if you are not a fan of spicy foods I would suggest you stay away from it. The rice and red beans were cooked to the perfect texture, not too mushy or too hard. I did have some reservations about the tomato sauce when ordering because of the tanginess tomato sauce can sometimes have but I also wasn’t in the mood for ginger. That wasn’t a problem with this sauce. It was perfectly flavored and not too robust like a spaghetti sauce.

All of the components and their seasonings worked together to make the bowl a non typical Caribbean dining experience. The best way for me to describe my meal is hearty! The portions are also very generous. I was able to leave a great size back for lunch the next day. I asked for some extra tomato sauce to take home and the next day the meal was just as amazing as the night before.

I give The Food Sermon not only thumbs up but all ten fingers and toes up! I plan to make my way back to the restaurant in the next week. My only warning would be the spacing, I would advise going just as they open if you plan to dine in.

Until next time Foodies!

Bon Appetit!

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There’s nothing like discovering a hidden gem and ROKC located in NYC’s Harlem neighborhood is just that.  Wedged between a couple of local storefronts, the building’s exterior is unassuming and unless specifically looking for it, you surely could miss it walking on by. But once inside, talk about ambiance. You feel like you’ve been transported to a cool bar somewhere in Tokyo!  I couldn’t wait to experience this as the latest food adventure with my Cocktails Before Love crew.

ROKC, a Japanese bar and restaurant, is actually a clever little acronym which stands for Ramen, Oyster, Kitchen and Cocktail. The extra special treat is the creative presentation and unique preparation of the excellent cocktails. They not only taste good, but they look amazing as well!

pineapple-ROKC
Photo courtesy of Rokc nyc

Upon arrival, we chose to sit at the bar.  I actually think these are the best seats in the cozy restaurant as we were able to get the perfect view of Shige, the highly skilled mixologist, bringing all these unique drinks to life. He effortlessly prepared all the cocktails during our visit and with such attention to detail, added every house-made ingredient. It was certainly a treat to watch as he whipped up all the special concoctions. Nope, these aren’t your typical, ‘let’s meet for happy hour’ drinks. ROKC does not take reservations and can get crowded as it is a small space, so I suggest going toward the beginning of the week if you would like to secure a table or just get there early and post up at the bar like we did!

Topping Berries Frozen with sparkling wine rokc
Photo by N. Salter

The menu is quite impressive, boasting over 40 sophisticated and fun cocktails ranging from the classics to ROKC signatures, as well as a selection of beers, wines and sake. The menu doesn’t hint at what kind of container your drink will come in. So it was fun to order and then see the unexpected presentation Shige would place in front of you. It ranged from really beautiful antiques and/or elaborate glasses to some amazing looking works of art. My Lychee cocktail, for example – which consisted of lychee fruit, ginger vodka, house lychee juice and lime – was served inside a lightbulb perched on top of a pile of ice in an etched ceramic mug. The Berries frozen drink looked like an ice sculpture on a pedestal and my fellow foodie’s bourbon based drink, the Final Word – mixed with maraschino, Chartreuse and lime came in an ornate, ruby red goblet. Someone next to us had the Tomato Clam that arrived in a huge conch shell in a wooden box, while someone else’s drink was displayed in a bird’s nest within an eggshell! Every drink we sampled was amazing and well-balanced and even traditionally robust, warm liquors like bourbon and cognac which were favored by my Cocktails Before Love crew, had a nice spin and were surprisingly light, refreshing  and full of unexpected blends.

Hijiki-cocktail-rokc
Photo by N. Salter
Drinks-buns-ROKC
Photo by N. Salter

ROKC’s small plates consist of  favorites like its assortment of steamed buns and ramen bowls. The staff was very attentive and helped with our food selections. We started out with the oysters, which were $1.50 during the happy hour special. We ordered all the varieties, from the small and salty Sweet Petites to the larger and meatier Blue Points – they were tasty and fresh served with lemons, cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce. We sampled the pork bun which featured tender and flavorful chunks of pork belly; the shrimp bun which was doused in a spicy mayo and for our ramen, we opted for the Kyoto, a chicken and fish based broth, topped with pork belly, garlic, soft-boiled seasoned egg and scallions, deemed by our server as the most traditional choice. The melding of the spices in the broth was just right without being too heavy. Everything was delicious and enjoyable.

Honestly we could have sat and watched Shige create these killer cocktails and happily eat and drink for hours. You must visit ROKC!  I know I will absolutely return for a seat at the bar and explore more of the menu.

If you want to join in on our next food adventure, be sure to RSVP for an upcoming meet up.

Cheers!

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Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

Eat, drink and be merry…and that’s exactly what we did at Cienfuegos! I hosted my first Cocktails Before Love NYC meet up this week and oh what an awesome time we had.

Three fellow foodies and I, joined by our very own Food Before Love founder Casandra, met at Cienfuegos, located in Manhattan’s East Village. This hidden gem of a restaurant serves up specialty rum cocktails and its famous punch bowls which are paired with Latin inspired small plates.

Ciengfuegos NYC
Courtesy of Cienfuegos

First off, the ambiance and decor was on point. Upon entering you ascend a long flight of stairs and once at the top, you feel like you’ve  been transported into someone’s chic Cuban apartment. Cool blues, ivory and pastel colors, plush furnishings and distressed, wrought iron gates create an intimate, but well spaced atmosphere. On our particular visit we were treated to live music playing urban Latin jazz. After chatting for a bit about ourselves and well, you know, our love of food, we learned that we all had a few favorites in common. We all lust after mac and cheese and we all live for seafood! After that we got right down to it; what should we order??

Guacamole Cienfuegos NYC

Cienfuegos recently revamped their menu to vegan, however we were all excited to try some of the delicious sounding options. Our server, Josh, helped us select some flavorful dishes that we all shared – guacamole with fried plantain chips, cauliflower tacos, black beans and coconut rice and yucca fries with a sweet corn purée sauce – and everything was tasty and the ingredients fresh. Half of us were on the fence about the corn dipping sauce that accompanied the yucca fries though – it tasted familiar, but hmmm we couldn’t quite figure it out. Josh informed us that it was made with corn and almond milk. I actually thought the fries were great on their own, no sauce needed! Overall, we enjoyed our light bites and it kind of slipped my mind that we were eating vegan – except maybe when it came to the cauliflower tacos. Yes, they were good – with spiced, chunks of cauliflower covered in sweet mango salsa, but the carnivore in me couldn’t help but miss a nice dose of marinated ground beef!

Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

On to the cocktails! We gladly took advantage of happy hour, which features a choice between two specialty cocktails for $7 and two half priced sharable rum punch bowls which vary daily. We each started with a round of Cuba Libres and daiquiris on the rocks. We all agreed that these were smooth going down, while still very potent…perfect!

Cocktails Before Love Meet up

For our punch bowl, the MVP of the evening, we  went with the Intro to Awesome – and the name of this drink couldn’t have been more befitting! We were scooping out the bottom of the bowl to make sure we got every drop. Yes, it was that good! The bowls are available in three different sizes, accommodating small parties of two or larger groups like ours. In addition, there is an extensive menu of individual cocktails to satisfy a variety of palates. Containing extra dry rum and Aperol mixed with cucumber, lime, soda and salt, the Intro to Awesome was very well-balanced between sweet and bitter and was so refreshing to enjoy amongst good company on a lovely NYC summer evening!

I can’t wait to return to Cienfuegos and indulge in more of the food and drink choices. Trust me;  if you haven’t checked it out yet, please gather up your crew and go!

Cheers!

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The Chef burger Korzo

The last best burger I had was at Korzo. Buried away in Brooklyn. I first learned of this decadence in our Facebook Group. Wanting to give it go, I went by with a friend to see why this was featured on the Chew. I’ve since been back for our monthly bite at nite series where we each indulged in a different burger and enjoyed a few appetizers as well. We made early reservations on both occasions which is really important because Korzo gets packed. The front of the restaurant has plenty of room to maintain the crowd but everyone is trying to get a seat at the tables in the back. Each table is adorned with condiments, including beets which I mistook for BBQ sauce. Luckily for me, we realized this before I poured it all over my fries or burger.

Korzo Chef Burger

We chose the pierogie’s, fried cheese platter and mussels to start and share. This was the perfect idea and helped us keep the bill under $50 for each guest, with drinks. On my initial visit, we also tried dessert which was overwhelmingly delicious. They served us a fried dough plate topped with whipped cream and fruits. Korzo is the place for any glutton.

The Chef burger Korzo

The burger I had both times with no regrets was the chef burger, cooked medium. The burger consist of a dry aged ground steak blend, with Monterey jack, smoked bacon, spicy Hungarian peppers and cognac spiked berry gastrique. The art of the burgers at Korzo is that they deep fry it a Hungarian dough. Instead of being met with a heavy burger bun, you’re biting into a soft, semi-sweet dough that holds all the juices inside. There’s just the right amount of room to squeeze your condiments in and the heat of the peppers stands out immediately. They make about 4 other burgers in this style but the chef burger is my favorite so far. I’ve had a chance to bite two others on the menu and they still don’t compare. If you’re looking for an amazing NYC Burger then Korzo needs to be the next place you go.

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Toloache Tacos

Thanks to NYC Restaurant Week, I had the chance to dine at Toloache, which specializes in Mexican food. I was beyond disappointed about the wait to get a table, but even more excited as to why everyone was trying to get a table at this establishment.

Tolache hosts diners downstairs, as well as, on the second level which wasn’t as loud or as packed. Cocktails are always the right way to start an evening and having dinner at Toloache would be no different. I ordered a Strawberry and Watermelon Cocktail. It blew my socks off! Perfectly blended cocktails is obviously something Tolache specializes in.

Toloache Cocktail

You know the saying “When in Rome”.  I ordered the Tacos, admittedly having high expectations. The tacos came out on a tortilla with the right amount of kick, although it lacked other flavors to really “wow” the table.

Toloache Tacos

The true prize of the evening was the entree. Toloache outdid themselves with the Entrana which was a seven chile rubbed skirt steak served with a Brussel Sprout-queso Fresco Salad. By far the best brussel sprouts I have ever had, tasted like bacon. I believe they even out did the skirt steak. I would go back just for this dish which left me talking about Toloache for days to follow.

Toloache Entrana

To end the night, I went out of my comfort zone and tried to the Tres Leche. I felt it was a little too moist for my liking. I know Tres Leche can be a hit or miss dish so I was completely open to how this could have played out. Personally not a fan but the decorative sauce was a winner I wished I could have had with chocolate.

Toloache Tres leches

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Empanada Mama Guacamole

If you haven’t been to Empanada Mama, you’ve truly been chilling under a rock.  What most people don’t know is that their downtown location was closed and relocated into a bigger location on Allen street. Recently, the west side location burned down and a lot of Empanada Mama regulars were heart broken.

Although, we’ll miss stumbling in after parties on our way home, I hope that many will begin to call the new location home. After all, the place is huge and still gives you the same great tasting food we all come to love.

Empanada Mama is open 24 hours a day and normally has Happy Hour until 4am. So how could you not have this spot on your radar at all times?

The new location has a main entrance and communal like seating area. Beyond the wall that divides them is your traditional seating area. There is also a bar. Something the other locations lacked. And when margarita happy hour is happening, you get one.

Empanada Mama Margarita

The real gem at the new place is that they now have a back room for private parties. Can you say next birthday at Empanada Mama?

I was hungry just thinking about it. So I grabbed some of their Guacamole and Chips before I dug into some of my favorites.

Empanada Mama Guacamole

The Guac comes in all levels of heat with an endless amount of chips that never gets too low.  Too hot for you? Well more than likely it is probably still Happy Hour, so go ahead and order #AnotherOne.

What sets Empanada Mama apart for making these bad boys at home, are the fillings. They have everything from Cheeseburger, to the Brazil, to Tuna Jalepeno. It can’t get more creative than that. And for a place that has something for everyone, they are in a position to win.

If you are not a fan of Empanadas, there is also full entree’s, desserts and more. However, if you want to take my advice, go with the Shredded Chicken!

Empanada Mama Basket

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