Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bed-Stuy for a taste of New Orleans.
There weren't many other sit-down dinner options on this stretch of Lewis Avenue when Adele Selby opened her "Cajun Soul" restaurant Biyou here about a year ago. And there still aren't. Despite rampant development around the elevated J/M/Z on nearby Broadway, the streets of western Bed-Stuy remain largely residential in nature, with the corner bodega dominating the retail landscape.
But Selby, a Queens native who has worked in Bed-Stuy as a property manager since the early 1990s, chose this location for her first-ever restaurant both because of her close ties with the community and, as she frankly told me during one of my dinners here over the weekend, because she already owns the building. “The opportunity came for this space, and I thought, ‘Do I rent it out to someone else?’” Selby said in an interview with Black-Owned Brooklyn. "Or do I take the chance?" And so, 65 years old and eager to try something new, she dove right in.
Biyou is set back slightly from the sidewalk by a hedge (really a fence with plastic ivy and twinkly lights) but the big windows and long frontage on Lewis let in plenty of light in the evening. The decor is all about New Orleans signifiers—Mardi Gras masks, jazz instruments, a large romantic photo of an actual bayou—and the restaurants seats about 35. Although a New Yorker born and bred, Selby does have family ties down South, and wanted to "bring the joy that I feel in New Orleans to Bed-Stuy.” Said joy will have to come without booze, however, as Selby doesn't sell the stuff at her establishment. Just a heads up.
The Biyou menu has the dishes you would expect from Cajun restaurant, such as Jambalaya, Blackened Catfish, Fried Okra, and Beignets, but no one seems too concerned about rigorous authenticity. The Fried Chicken is good, the crackling skin studded with pickled jalapeño, and the meat, even the breast, admirably juicy inside. This comes, somewhat unexpectedly, with a side of incredibly dense bread pudding topped with berries, and though the whole thing is plenty filling, adding a side of garlicky Kale Greens brings some brightness to the table.
The kitchen isn't timid about cranking up the heat. The Shrimp and Grits is surprisingly fiery, due to whatever is coating the plump, blackened shellfish, though the mountain of thick and creamy grains evens the dish out nicely. The Vegan Gumbo, one of an impressive number of vegetarian or vegan items on the menu, is also a lively dish, with okra, chickpeas, and the Cajun holy trinity providing ample sustenance.
An Organic Turkey Burger and a couple of Po Boys serve as your sandwich-and-side options. I'll leave it to NOLA natives to tell us whether Biyou's version of the latter even qualifies as that city's signature sandwich, but I can say that the Chicken Po Boy is a spicy, sauce delight. Those Sweet Potato Fries are excellent, too, cooked to a slight crisp on the outside and aggressively seasoned. And you can order the Mac and Cheese with confidence, as that side dish workhorse does its job well here.
Biyou is an old fashioned sort of neighborhood restaurant, a friendly place serving good, familiar food, but with some depth to the menu and a few surprises to keep you on your toes.
A large party were celebrating a friend's 80th birthday one night, there were several dates going on, two tables had young adults being taken out by their parents, a trio showed up on Saturday night with a pack of cards for a game night sort of situation, and all of the above felt exactly right. Brunch seems to be a big deal here as well.
(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
Biyou is located at 198 Lewis Avenue, at the corner of Greene Avenue, and is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., from noon to 11:00 on Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, and from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Closed Monday. (718-928-7555; biyoubk.com)