Comedy, crafts and Caribbean cuisine on Flatbush Avenue
Labor Day is coming soon and with it, the West Indian Day Parade. Spectators who want to go to the festivities wearing flag-themed clothing that pays homage to a Caribbean country can buy it on Flatbush Avenue.
The vendors at Flatbush Caton Market sell shirts, skirts, dresses, bikinis and accessories emblazoned with flag designs and colors from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Guyana, Panama, Barbados and other countries. They call it “flag wear.”
The segment of Flatbush Avenue that runs through the neighborhoods of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush is peppered with stores and restaurants that sell Caribbean-themed merchandise and food.
Many out-of-towners who visit Brooklyn for the Sept. 2 parade will stop by the busy commercial corridor — which is also a magnet for Brooklynites.
Molas and dolls in festive dresses
Flatbush Caton Market moved a couple years ago because a mixed-use affordable-housing and commercial building is being constructed on the site where their home base was located. The new development will have space for the market to move back home.
The temporary location, which houses more than 30 Caribbean vendors, is just off the corner of Flatbush Avenue at 2184 Clarendon Road.
The West Indian Day Parade weekend is a busy time of year. The market will be open on Sunday, Sept. 1, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and also overnight during J’Ouvert, from 10 p.m. Sunday until 7 a.m. Monday, Sept. 2, director Lisa Thompson told the Brooklyn Eagle. Normally the market is closed on Sundays — but for J’Ouvert, the dusk-to-dawn celebration prior to the West Indian Day Parade, they make an exception.
For last-minute shoppers, Flatbush Caton Market will also be open on Sept. 2 until 2 p.m.
In addition to flag wear, the market offers a wide array of foods and artwork — like molas, textile artworks from Panama.
There are also dolls dressed in flag wear and festive costumes made by vendor Telma Reid.
The Flatbush Blend
Medina’s Soaps, which are made of natural products such as avocados, almonds and shea butter, are sold at Flatbush Caton Market — and also at Flatbush Avenue gift shop Awesome Brooklyn in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
The owner, Vanessa Raptopoulos, stocks the store at 617 Flatbush Ave. with numerous products from local entrepreneurs. The lineup includes $15 Love Notes scented soy candles made by Brooklynite Nya Kam and $15 Brooklyn Mojo kitchen towels. Breukelen Rub spice blends made by chef Jamal Dunlap and entrepreneur Isalia Labron are priced at $14 per bottle. One offering is the Flatbush Blend, which is jerk seasoning in honor of the Jamaican cooks who live and work in the area.
Grape-Nuts ice cream and coconut buns
There’s a big selection of excellent Caribbean food on Flatbush Avenue. This is just a sampling. Bring cash, because some restaurants and bakeries don’t take debit or credit cards.
For starters, try the Grape-Nuts ice cream at Scoops and Plates.
The 35-year-old vegetarian restaurant at 624 Flatbush Ave. is a favorite with Prospect Lefferts Gardens residents. Activists have gathered more than 17,500 signatures on a petition calling on its landlord to grant proprietor Tony Fongyit a long-term lease.
He has been kept in limbo with a month-to-month lease.
I ate Scoops ice cream for breakfast and loved it. You can get more appropriate Caribbean breakfast fare such as porridge at Errol’s Caribbean Delights at 661 Flatbush Ave.
Among its excellent selection of breads and pastries, a $1 coconut bun tastes great with a cup of tea made with evaporated milk.
Jerk chicken lunch for $3.50
As you walk down Flatbush Avenue, random interesting sights will catch your eye.
For instance, there’s street art like the Brooklyn Peace Constellation mural on the Winthrop Street facade of Parkside Express Pharmacy at 685 Flatbush Ave.
A retailer with a sense of humor, Class One Men and Boys Wear at 717 Flatbush Ave., has put a mannequin on the sidewalk wearing a colorful shirt patterned with big, fat cockroaches.
Outside Bubble Land Laundromat at 740 Flatbush Ave., a chess board is set up on a table with an empty chair beside it. Maybe when you walk by, somebody will be there playing chess.
But more about the restaurants.
Jamaican Pride Bakery at 731 Flatbush Ave. serves a really good $3.50 takeout lunch of jerk chicken with side dishes of vegetables and rice and peas.
At Ali’s Roti at 825 Flatbush Ave., a sidewalk table surrounded by potted plants is a great spot to eat when it’s not blisteringly hot.
Breadfruit and quenepas
You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. You say quenepa, I say guinep.
If you want to make Caribbean recipes at home, Star Best Farm Market at 818 Flatbush Ave. sells West Indian food products you’ll need.
There’s produce such as protein-rich breadfruit for $2.49 per pound, leafy green callaloo for $2.99 per pound, a starchy vegetable called red yautia for $1.99 per pound and bunches of quenepas for $2 per bag.
Quenepa is a Spanish-language name for a tiny fruit with thick skin. There are nearly 20 names for it, a posting on website. Guinep is one that English speakers most often use.
The Flatbush grocer also sells an extensive selection of packaged goods such as $2.29 bags of pigeon peas (aka gandules) and $2 bags of chewy ginger candy.
Caribbean-themed comedy at Kings Theatre
When you’re strolling from Star Best Farm Market to Flatbush Caton Market, you’ll pass Erasmus Hall High School at 911 Flatbush Ave.
It looks like a castle. Famous alumni include singers Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond.
“My platforms are a melting pot for the Caribbean,” Hype said in a 2016 Carribbean Beat Magazine story. “Everyone can unify and we all laugh and joke as one.”
Kings Theatre at 1027 Flatbush Ave. reopened in February 2015 following a $94 million renovation. It had sat vacant and deteriorating for several decades.
This French Renaissance-style Flatbush building was originally the Loew’s Kings movie house, which opened in 1929. Its design was inspired by Versailles Palace and the Paris Opera House.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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