Caribbean Soul Food Real Veggie Cafe vegan restaurant opens in Jamaica, Queens

The vegan boom in New York City continues with the opening this month of the family-run Real Veggie Cafe in Jamaica, Queens, which focuses on a blend of black South American soul food and Caribbean cuisine based on a meat-free cuisine. Located at 106-13 Guy R Brewer Boulevard, it joins a select group of Caribbean vegan restaurants such as Veggie Castle II of Richmond Hill and Ital Kitchen BK of Crown Heights, specializing in Rastafarian cuisine.

Mushroom nuggets, beaten
Courtesy of Real Veggie Cafe

Here, chef and owner Hulando Shaw cooks soul food classics like fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, as well as Caribbean staples like jerk chicken, rice, and peas, and the ackee and the salted fish – all with a vegan riff. Take, for example, battered mushroom nuggets ($ 10 to $ 15, as an appetizer or in a bowl) that could easily pass as fried chicken wings. He soaks the oyster mushrooms in wet, dry pasta containing Caribbean spices like allspice, black pepper, turmeric, and thyme before pulling and pressing them together to resemble chicken. They are currently offered in three flavors: jerk, barbecue, and sweet heat fueled by Scottish caps. Ackee, a pulpy fruit related to lychee and essential to Jamaican cuisine, is another flavor that will debut shortly.

The vegan and cross-cultural fusion also appears in Shaw’s Black-Eyed Stew Peas, traditionally made with red beans in Jamaica ($ 5 side dish); a “pulled pork” sandwich with grated jackfruit baked in a barbecue sauce ($ 10 with fries); and “salting,” a soy protein that replaces traditional salted fish, and comes with a choice of ackee or callaloo (part of a $ 15 Sunday brunch menu). He also plans to occasionally offer a mushroom-based “oxtail stew” and fake jerk chicken.

Chef Hulando Shaw stands behind a counter at Real Veggie Cafe

Hulando Shaw (l) is the chef of Real Veggie Cafe
Caroline shin

The varied menu is inspired by Shaw’s cultural background, religious practice and community. At the age of 10, Shaw says he “drove boats” in the parish of St. Andrew, five miles north of Kingston. “All the young men would get together and everyone would be in charge of cooking different things,” says Shaw, who added that this tradition of young men meeting outside to cook and eat together laid the groundwork for his. future as a chef.

After following his mother to Jamaica, Queens, in 1995, his devotion to the Protestant Christian denomination of Seventh-day Adventism, which emphasizes personal health and nutrition, led him to converting to an all herbal diet in 2004. “I started looking at the body and how the body was created, and how it can heal itself” with “the right fuel,” says Shaw. “It’s like a car. If the car forces you to put on regular unleaded and you put diesel in your body – in your car – then what will happen is the car will actually move, but eventually it will break down. And that’s where the herbal diet comes in. “

Shaw started making his Caribbean vegan recipes for church meetings. From there, his culinary career took off. In 2007, he founded his restaurant company Real Veggie in Laurelton, Queens, and took on various chef roles at Andrews University in Michigan and Laurelbrook Academy in Tennessee. He returned to New York City in 2017 to establish a brick and mortar operation in Island Park, Long Island, which he closed during the pandemic and switched to weekly pop-ups.

“I fell ill in January 2020, so we decided to reassess,” Shaw says. “We found a really cool space in Lynbrook [Long Island] this has allowed us to create pop-ups during this COVID period. “

A bowl of vegan food

Real Veggie Cafe’s menu is inspired by soul food classics from the Caribbean and Black Americans
Courtesy of Real Veggie Cafe

Community is a pillar of Shaw’s work. Last year he helped cook and deliver over a thousand meals a week to essential residents and workers in South East Queens through his partnerships with Queens Together, Black Resource Network, the Senator’s office. of New York State Leroy Comrie and his church in their common mission: to fight food insecurity in the borough, once the epicenter of the pandemic. In early 2021, Shaw launched his Real Veggie Cooking School, where he teaches children ages 8 to 12, mainly from the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Trinidad, and St. Vincent, to cook vegan foods. “If you teach a child to cook healthy early on, he will actually continue to practice healthy.”

Around the same time, Shaw took over the lease for a restaurant that was previously owned by a colleague who asked him to preserve the concept of soul food and continue to feed Jamaica. mainly Black American community.

“This is how I mixed my Caribbean roots with a concept of soul food,” says Shaw. “Let’s open a restaurant and meet a community where they are.”

Real Veggie Cafe is located at 106-13 Guy R Brewer Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens. Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday.

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