Our latest installment of Quick Bites bring us to Bushwick for some impressive African cuisine.
A quick tour this past weekend of the area around Bushwick's Jefferson L station confirmed that Jefftown (is that still a thing?) has completed its transformation into a destination party zone. But on warm evenings like the ones New Yorkers recently enjoyed, it's also apparent that Maria Hernandez Park remains the true heart of the community. Which is why I am rooting heavily for the decidedly un-"lit" Hills Kitchen—which opened last month directly across Knickerbocker Avenue from the park—to succeed.
Hills Kitchen serves an impressively deep and varied menu of African Cuisine, and is run by Promise Eduro, who recently moved to Brooklyn from Nigeria and seems to do absolutely everything here. Like she is the only person on staff: your (talented) chef, your (helpful) manager, your (amiable) server. This can make for some awkward pauses in your Hills Kitchen experience, because if Eduro is in the kitchen cooking a big delivery order, for example, she can't also be out front telling you to "please sit wherever you want," or bringing you your check when you're ready to leave. So try to relax.
The space itself is narrow and rather dimly lit, with seating for about twelve, not including an overstuffed lounger near the register for those waiting for take-out. A few photographs and paintings hang on the red and yellow walls, and there are two TVs playing cable news. It's all very no-fuss, which is great, though it might be nice to have some music and tune out the world for a little bit.
Okro Soup, $5. (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
West African restaurants remain a relative rarity in this part of town, so don't worry if you don't recognize the names of some of the dishes on the largely explication-free menu. One version of the menu includes photos, which helps a little, and Eduro will do her best to guide you through it, but my strategy in situations like this is to just order away and trust the kitchen. Which, when you have a cook as good as Eduro, works out very well indeed.
There are three main rice dishes, but since you're in a mostly Nigerian restaurant you really should get the Jollof, which arrives all bright red and fiery. I had mine with goat (chicken, fish, and beef are also options) and the hacked up, bone-in meat was perfectly tender and covered in a thick, lively sauce. This is a great meal. If you want to add a side dish, try the Moi Moi, a creamy, steamed bean pudding that hides an entire egg inside.
Ordering the soups as side dishes is a good way to sample a range of flavors. The Okro, which comes with bits of shrimp and meat, is visibly slimy, intensely rich, and absolutely delicious. The Egusi, made from ground seeds and punctuated with bitterleaf and chewy dried fish, was also a deeply flavorful, satisfying dish, especially when eaten with a sticky ball of Pounded Yam. And if you want a bowl of something broth-ier, the Fish Pepper Soup is crazy spicy and overflowing with fat chunks of croaker fish.
Over two meals I barely made a dent in the Hills Kitchen menu, and am looking forward to getting back there as soon as possible to try more of Eduro's home cooking. And the bonus: the place provides a welcome respite from some of the neighborhood's more frantic eating scenes.
Hills Kitchen is located at 252 Knickerbocker Avenue, between Starr Street and Willoughby Avenue, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (929-480-8775; hillskitchenonline.com)