Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Tayo Giwa of Black-Owned Brooklyn at & Sons Ham Bar.
Cynthia Gordy Giwa and Tayo Giwa of Black-Owned Brooklyn at & Sons Ham Bar. All photos by Dominique Sindayiganza for Resy.

Community SeriesNew York

A Perfect Day of Eating in Black-Owned Brooklyn 

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On a chilly Sunday in Brooklyn, Cynthia Gordy Giwa and her husband, Tayo Giwa, meet me bright and early at Cafe Rue Dix in Crown Heights. I’ve asked them to give us a tour of as many of their favorite Black-owned restaurants in Brooklyn in a single day, and they are more than up for the challenge.

For the past five years, the couple has documented Black-owned businesses throughout Brooklyn for their digital publication, Black-Owned Brooklyn, and the project has since become so much more than a directory.

“It’s really about community and culture in Black Brooklyn — and seeing it through the lens of these businesses,” says Cynthia, a marketing executive and former journalist. Today, the duo also creates documentary films (2020’s “Soul Summit: Doin’ It in the Park” and 2022’s “The Sun Rises in the East”) and hosts events like a Juneteenth Food Festival and an immersive holiday pop-up market featuring 50 local Black vendors.

“When we talk about the heart of the community, and the culture that connects us all, these businesses are very much part of sharing those stories,” says Tayo, a media and technology lawyer and photographer and New York native, who grew up on Long Island. “It’s easy to take for granted the diversity of the Black diaspora that we have here.”

“When you think of the major Black urban centers of the world, you might think about Lagos in Nigeria or Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, but Brooklyn, New York is right up there, too,” says Cynthia. “And the diversity here is so special; whether you’re African American, Caribbean, African, or Latin American, we are all here with our cultures mixing and interplaying with one another.”

Brooklyn is also personally special to both: It’s where they spent their first dates on long strolls, and where they ultimately decided to settle down together as a family of four. Tayo first moved to Brooklyn 15 years ago; for Cynthia, a Philadelphia native, it’s been 13 years. Today, they call Bed-Stuy home, and they can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Driving from one restaurant to another on our epic food crawl that day, I ask them how much Brooklyn has changed since they first moved here. Tayo notes the impact of gentrification. He mentions recent news reports about Black families leaving the city en masse. But he says, despite whatever challenges there are, celebrating and preserving the long-standing history and culture of Brooklyn’s Black community is important — something he and Cynthia strive to do each day with Black-Owned Brooklyn.


Stop 1: Cafe Rue Dix | Crown Heights

Thiebou djeun (top) and dibi Senegal are Cynthia and Tayo’s favorite orders from Cafe Rue Dix.
Thiebou djeun (top) and dibi Senegal are Cynthia and Tayo’s favorite orders from Cafe Rue Dix.
Owners Nilea Alexander and Lamine Diagne share a laugh with Cynthia and Tayo.

At this all-day Senegalese French café which turns 10 this summer, the kitchen immediately fires off Cynthia and Tayo’s favorite dishes. There’s thiebou djeun, a slow-cooked fish with carrots, cabbage, and cassava, served over jollof; dibi Senegal, grilled lambchops smothered with onion confit, served with sweet plantains and a side of attiéké (a couscous made from ground cassava); and mafe, spicy stewed beef in peanut butter sauce, served over couscous.

The menu here offers a variety of Senegalese favorites plus more traditional French entrees like steak frites and a must-order burger, too. And the decor likewise is an ideal blend of French and Senegalese influences; it feels like you could be sitting in a café in Paris, but so many small details like the batik textiles and African art are all nods to Dakar, Senegal, where co-owner Lamine Diagne grew up.

As Cynthia starts eating the thiebou djeun, she says, “This is one of my favorite things to eat anywhere.” Tayo, meanwhile, digs into the dibi Senegal. When Cynthia first moved to Brooklyn, she settled in Crown Heights and she’d often meet with friends here. She still loves stopping by from time to time, and she tells me their store next door, Marché Rue Dix, is a must, too. “Nilea is a design powerhouse,” she says of co-owner Nilea Alexander.

When Nilea and Lamine arrive, the four immediately bond over their young children, and Cynthia recalls when she and Tayo brought their eldest daughter, Jumoke, to a New Year’s Eve celebration at the restaurant years ago. “It was such a sweet way to ring in the new year,” she says. 1451 Bedford Avenue.


Stop 2: Ras Plant Based | Crown Heights

The Mercato and Piassa Platters from Ras Plant Based each have five different vegetable preparations.
The Mercato and Piassa Platters from Ras Plant Based each have five different vegetable preparations.

By the time we arrive at Ras Plant Based, it’s a rare quiet period before the brunch rush begins at the beloved vegan Ethiopian restaurant. And as soon as the owners, husband-and-wife Romeo and Milka Regalli arrive, it’s hugs all around.

“We interviewed them back in 2020 — they opened just one week before that first shutdown — and it’s been amazing to see them succeed,” says Tayo. (Romeo was named a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: New York State in 2022.) Tayo and Cynthia often ordered takeout from Ras Plant Based during the pandemic. “It was sad that they couldn’t be open normally — because Ethiopian food is meant to be served communally — but they made it work.”

Nowadays, Cynthia and Tayo love sharing the restaurant’s platters of slow-simmered vegetables — the gomen (collard greens) and alicha shiro (chickpeas) are favorites — and scooping everything up with injera. “Everything is just so flavorful — it’s some of the most delicious food we’ve ever eaten,” Cynthia says.

Before we leave for the next stop, Romeo and Milka insist that Cynthia and Tayo also try some of their brunch dishes, including a vegan French toast and a kitfo (pea protein powder) burrito. “That French toast was insane,” Tayo says, as we roll ourselves over to the next restaurant. 739 Franklin Avenue.

Owners Romeo and Milka Regalli join Cynthia and Tayo for a few bites.
Owners Romeo and Milka Regalli join Cynthia and Tayo for a few bites.

Stop 3: Peppa’s Jerk Chicken | Crown Heights

“It’s Caribbean comfort food, Caribbean soul food,” says Cynthia.
A close-up of the escovitch fish.

Luckily, Peppa’s is an eight-minute walk away, giving us enough time to digest before ordering some jerk chicken and escovitch fish, as well as some festival (fried-dough fritters that are equally cakey and crunchy) to top it all off.

The location we find ourselves at is one they regularly order from (there are multiple locations of Peppa’s throughout Brooklyn), but they add it’s well worth stopping by the original location at 738 Flatbush Avenue, if you’ve never been.

“The Flatbush location has been an iconic late-night spot for 20 years,” says Cynthia. “It’s so consistently good. Peppa’s is known for their jerk, but everything on the menu is great. We order from [this location] pretty regularly, and our girls love it, too.” 791 Prospect Place.

It’s hard not to smile when you’re having Peppa’s.
It’s hard not to smile when you’re having Peppa’s.

Stop 4: & Sons Ham Bar | Prospect-Lefferts Gardens

Chef Nico Bouter grabs one of the hanging wooden cutting boards to use for his charcuterie.
The finished charcuterie board.

It’s a quick drive south to & Sons Ham Bar, a cozy spot Cynthia and Tayo first discovered when they needed a chill respite after a loud and bustling work event. “We first came here as a nightcap, but it wound up being the main event of the night,” says Tayo. “It’s the perfect spot for a lingering date night with a meat and cheese board, wine, and an order of their cornbread madeleines,” adds Cynthia.

Chef Nico Bouter greets us when we arrive, and he starts preparing a full spread of thinly sliced American hams, chorizo and cheese, along with sides of pickled watermelon rinds, gherkins, hazelnuts, stuffed olives, pickled pearl onions, and freshly toasted madeleines.

& Sons is one of six PLG hospitality businesses owned by acclaimed sommelier and winemaker André Hueston Mack (his wine label is Masion Noir Wines), and when he comes in to greet Cynthia and Tayo they realize there’s an instant connection: André knows Tayo’s cousin, Dept. of Culture chef and owner Ayo Balogun, and says he’s hoping to work with him on something in the future. 447 Rogers Avenue.

The extensive wine list at & Sons features American wines exclusively.
André Hueston Mack.

Stop 5: Dept. Of Culture | Bed-Stuy

Dept. of Culture chef and owner Ayo Balogun prepares the pounded yam with egusi.

Funny enough, our next stop a short drive away is to meet up with Ayo, who briefly lived with Tayo’s family on Long Island when Tayo was a teenager. As soon as we walk inside the restaurant, Cynthia and Tayo head to the framed photograph hanging near the record player, pointing out Tayo’s dad in the family photo. Hanging next to it is a portrait of Ayo’s grandmother, Ayinke.

Ayo greets his cousins with hugs and, because we’re meeting before dinner service is underway, he asks them what they’d like to eat. Usually, he serves a four-course tasting menu based on the regional cooking from Nigeria’s Kwara State where he grew up. Today, even though it’s just our group, it’s not unlike the dinners Ayo usually hosts at the restaurant, where you feel like you’re at his home.

The pepper soup is rather hot and fiery, so Ayo pours Cynthia a glass of oat milk to cool things down a bit. Tayo’s father is in the center of the photograph hanging above Cynthia.

“Chef’s choice,” they say, so Ayo gets to work, making iyán ati egusi (pounded yam and soup made with ground melon seeds and vegetables) and a fiery Nigerian pepper soup with goat. Nigerian jùjú music plays in the background while Balogun cooks the dishes.

“Pounded yam reminds me of home — sitting at home with my parents,” says Tayo. “It’s so specific and familiar. If you go somewhere and they make pounded yam for you, that’s a true sign of affection.” 327 Nostrand Avenue.

A close-up of that pepper soup with goat.
A close-up of that pepper soup with goat.

Stop 6: BKLYN Blend | Bed-Stuy

It’s a pleasant surprise for Cynthia and Tayo to see Cynthia’s cousin, Timothy Ragsdale, at BKLYN Blend.
It’s a pleasant surprise for Cynthia and Tayo to see Cynthia’s cousin, Timothy Ragsdale, at BKLYN Blend.

Next, at BKLYN Blend, a popular all-day café and juice bar near Herbert Von King Park, Cynthia unexpectedly runs into her younger cousin, Timothy Ragsdale, a musician from Philadelphia who’s doing a show in New York later that night. “I had no idea he was in town,” she says, inviting him to join them for a drink before he heads out. Tayo opts for the Brownsville Nut Shake, made with peanut butter, oats, spice, vanilla, and agave; Cynthia’s having a Bed-Stuy Beet; and Tim opts for a Canarsie Cranberry shake made with four different types of berries.

“With their two locations (Bed-Stuy and East New York), BKLYN Blend brings healthy alternatives to communities that lacked these options,” says Tayo. He and Cynthia also point out how the restaurant itself was constructed with wood sourced from all over Brooklyn, including the Coney Island Boardwalk.

“It’s my absolute favorite salmon sandwich in all of Brooklyn,” says Tayo.
“It’s my absolute favorite salmon sandwich in all of Brooklyn,” says Tayo.

“The ingredients aren’t just incredibly fresh, but they also reflect the owners’ Trinidadian heritage,” he says, referring to the housemade bread spiced with turmeric as a prime example. That bread is the foundation of Tayo’s absolute favorite salmon sandwich: the Park Slope Smoked Salmon Sandwich. “It’s savory, but also has a sweetness to it.”

Cynthia’s go-to order is the Navy Yard Tuna Steak Salad. “I’m not usually inclined to salads, but I love this one,” she says. “It’s got so many different textures: apples and cranberries and delicious grilled protein make it so satisfying.” 194 Tompkins Avenue.

BKLYN Blend co-owners Ali Coutard and Keishon Warren. Together, they run the restaurants with Keishon’s father, Ralph Warren, and another friend, Edson Cooper.
BKLYN Blend co-owners Ali Coutard and Keishon Warren. Together, they run the restaurants with Keishon’s father, Ralph Warren, and another friend, Edson Cooper.

Stop 7: Cuts & Slices | Bed-Stuy

There’s almost always a line outside Cuts & Slices, but it’s always well worth the wait.
There’s almost always a line outside Cuts & Slices, but it’s always well worth the wait.

When we make it to our final stop, there’s already a long line of people waiting for highly covetable slices and pies from Randy Mclaren’s Cuts & Slices. It’s the one place where we don’t grab anything to eat — at this point, Cynthia and Tayo are definitely full — but they fill me in on the restaurant, which opened in 2018 but went viral in 2021 when celebrities like NFL players Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr., singer Queen Najia, and rapper Jadakiss declared their love for the pizza shop on social media.

“They’ve got about 25 different pizzas in their repertoire, and about 10 displayed daily, so you might be a little overwhelmed by the variety, but honestly everything is great,” says Cynthia. “My favorites are the oxtail pizza — they slow cook and debone the oxtail in house — and the chopped cheese, which tastes just like the bodega sandwich with seasoned ground beef, onion, peppers, cheddar, mozzarella, and a sriracha-ketchup sauce. I also love the shrimp curry slice. It just works.” 93 Howard Avenue.


Cynthia and Tayo’s Other Favorite Black-Owned Restaurants in Brooklyn

F1rst NYC: “It’s hard to improve on the classic bacon-egg-and-cheese, but the breakfast sandwiches here are some of Brooklyn’s best. Get the Quack Confit with confit duck leg, hash browns, fried egg, and strawberry-rhubarb jam, the S.E.C. with chicken sausage, or the spicy pork belly, and never leave without a side of hot, crispy fries. Pro tip: On weekends, they serve a cornbread French toast.” — C.G.

Abu’s Homestyle Bakery: “Abu’s is best known for their bean pie, an African American Muslim staple made from navy beans pureed into a smooth custard. The bean pie is delicious, but so is everything else, especially the peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, carrot cake, and butter pound cake. — T.G.

Island Pops: “Island Pops has ice pops and ice cream in flavors inspired by the owners’ childhoods in Trinidad and Tobago, like sorrel, mango chow, soursop, Guinness caramel, and even Nescafé coffee biscuit.” — T.G.

Kokomo Caribbean Restaurant: “Kokomo is a whole experience; dining there makes you feel truly transported to a tropical getaway. But the food is just as serious as the decor, especially their brunch. Our favorites are the Caribbean-spiced lamb chops and potatoes; the plantain pancakes; and the braised oxtail flatbread.” — C.G.

Aunts et Uncles: “Part vegan cafe and gift shop, their food is seriously tasty. Get the lobster roll and the bake and saltfish — both made from hearts of palm — as well as the French toast.” — C.G.

Zanmi: “Everything on the menu at this Hatian restaurant is great, but we always return to the joumou soup, pork griot, and the whole branzino, which gets marinated for three days.” — T.G.

The Crabby Shack: “As the name suggests, it’s a spot for all things crab: everything from crab legs, BLTs, and mac and cheese to corn chowder, tater tots, and you name it. Our favorites are the crab roll and the Clobster roll made with half crab, half lobster. Definitely get a side of griddled honey butter cornbread and broccoli seasoned with garlic butter and Old Bay.” — C.G.

Ital Kitchen: “It’s vegan fare in a cozy environment that feels like homecooked food made specially for you. Chef and owner Michael Gordon is a Jamaican Rasta who trained at Le Cordon Bleu and his meals always have a mix of influences. Our favorites are the Noxtail, made with a celery “bone” and the Thai-Fi curry stew with oyster mushrooms.” — T.G.

BierWax: “Inspired by Japan’s jazu kissa, or jazz cafés, Bierwax combines owner Chris Maestro’s passion for craft beer, vinyl records, and Golden Age hip-hop. So while you drink expertly curated craft beer selected by Chris (he’s a Level 1 Cicerone — to beer what a sommelier is to wine), you also get to vibe out to live DJ sets.” — T.G.

Royal Rib House: “A barbecue institution in Brooklyn for decades, Royal Rib House has famously long lines, but the food is excellent. Try the fall-off-the-bone, slow-baked ribs, the chopped barbecue sandwich topped with coleslaw, the crisp-skinned barbecue chicken, and don’t miss the collard greens (which are vegetarian).” — T.G.

El Jeffe Modern Mexican Grill: “The tacos here are infused with spices and seasonings from Panama, where the owner, Onishka Camarena, was born. And while it’s a fast-casual concept, everything is made from scratch and in-house. Our favorites are the jerk pork tacos, the grilled shrimp tacos, and the burrito bowls made with coconut rice.” — C.G.


Follow Black-Owned Brooklyn on Instagram. And find more of Cynthia and Tayo’s stories on Black-owned restaurants in Brooklyn here

Dominique Sindayiganza is a photographer who splits his time between Providence, R.I. and New York. Follow him on Instagram.

Deanna Ting is Resy’s New York Editor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.

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