New York City boasts 578 miles of coastline. But nowhere exudes that relaxed island vibe like Culpepper’s in the landlocked neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. With a Haitian joint just half a block away and an abundance of West Indian restaurants peppering the area, the Barbadian Culpepper’s could have been lost in the Caribbean crowd.
One thing that helps this corner store stand out is that it is painted a shocking yellow beneath its bright blue awning. Occasionally the line stretches out the door, but even then the back counter is reserved for a friendly salesman hocking reggae, R & B, and Caribbean world music discs next to the coffee maker. His laptop is always playing a classic concert or film, and I’ve stood and watched Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come during multiple Culpepper’s runs.
The food is a unique twist on the more common Caribbean island varieties that can be found in Crown Heights. My favorite dish is the jerk shrimp, though they rarely offer it. Winston, the proud and easy-going man behind the counter, may be nice enough to make some for you if you put in a request with a smile. Even without the jerk shrimp, Culpepper’s excels at serving up deliciously spicy jerk chicken and a surprisingly subtle goat roti. The flying fish and king fish cutters are particularly good, but don’t be afraid to ask for hot sauce since Winston doesn’t seem to think I can handle it, and so he never forks over the goods unless I ask. And the uber-gooey fried plantains are a side dish highlight, though neither the macaroni pie nor the fifty-cent fish cakes should be missed.
Culpepper’s has a bakery on the premises as well. The sweet, light turnovers are my favorite bread to take home, but I’m not the only one and they run out of turnovers often. On my last trip I was choosing between lead pipes, rock cakes, and tennis rolls, but Winston convinced me to go with the coconut bread. It was my first coconut bread experience, and I was a bit overwhelmed by the staggering density and astonishing weight of the loaf. But the flavor was delicious, and just two or three bites filled me up. For days, I kept stopping at my counter to take a whiff of the coconut bread. Without fail, the aroma would succeed in sending me back to a serene tropical island I’d never actually visited.
Culpepper’s, 1082 Nostrand Avenue at Lincoln Road 718-940-4122