If ever there was a part of town in which a restaurant could get away with designing their entire place as an earnest love letter to rap's early days, it's the South Bronx, where it all began.
And this is exactly why Beatstro works. Now in soft-open mode in Mott Haven (still a little hike to 1520 Sedgwick, the birthplace of hip hop), they'll officially open on July 12th. Owned and operated by Bronx natives, the owners hired local artist Andre Trenier to create the wall murals, which in one case portrays a famous Harry Chalfant photograph of DJ Kay Slay. Bronx-based graffiti writer SKEME painted the trains above the open kitchen and the black books on another wall, recreating classic tags and pieces when needed (artists like COPE and several writers among the Beatstro staff chipped in here as well). And there are classic prints hung everywhere from photographer Joe Conzo, one of the great chroniclers of the area during late 1970s and early 1980s.
The entrance is done up in a half-hearted speakeasy style way, a hostess stand sharing the small front room with a pretty unconvincing "record store." Once you get behind the thick black curtain, Beatstro sprawls through multiple seating areas. There's a lounge-y circle of ornate antique furniture near the bar (all purchased across the street, and reupholstered around the corner). There are tables scattered around the kitchen in the middle of the space, which is itself surrounded by an eating counter. Red banquets and a wall of golden woofers defines the look of the main dining room in the back.
Beatstro's menu is filled with what co-owner Alfredo Angueira described as Afro-Caribbean cuisine, or "food you would have been served at that time in this area," with some dishes given a gentle update. The Crispy Pork Rinds ($4) are sprinkled with BBQ spice and spritzed with fresh lemon. The row of Fried Green Tomatoes ($12) can be dipped into spicy-sweet papaya and mustard sauce. Viera's Fried Chicken ($22) is crackling and juicy and served with blue-cheese slaw and hot honey. There's a Jambalaya entree ($26), Cajun Catfish ($24), and Jerk Pork Belly Ribs ($18). They also offer specialty cocktails, which can be punnily-named affairs, like the Method Man-hattan, for example.
Beatstro is located at 135 Alexander Avenue in Mott Haven, between 134th and 133rd Streets, and is currently open daily from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., though some nights they may stay open until midnight, depending. (718-489-9396; beatstro.com)