Like eager spawns of Chipotle, globally minded, casual lunch counters have lately begun proliferating around the city in earnest. Laser-focused on portability, efficiency, and various nutritional concerns, these spots generally boil down the essence of various ethnic cuisines into acetic grain bowls and whole wheat wraps, whose neatly cubed contents are tidily divided into the gleaming compartments of a steam tray. And on the surface, the Food Sermon in Crown Heights could seem like a Caribbean counterpart of Chipotle, what with seating options relegated to a handful of high stools (all but necessitating grabbing and going), and a practical mix-and-match menu offering rice+beans+protein+sauce, with optional add-ons including beets, avocado and kale.
But don’t be fooled. The Food Sermon is no slick corporate endeavor presided over by an assembly line of grim-faced 20-year-olds—not even close. Instead, it’s tended by an all-ages troupe that could only be family, which adds to the illusion that, rather than patronizing a restaurant, you’ve actually stumbled into someone’s snug kitchen, one adorned with happy aphorisms like “We Believe in You!” and decorated with pots stacked to the ceiling, crowded with flowering succulents and copies of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, and wallpapered with a sheath of flyers for an upcoming town meeting at the Full Gospel Assembly on Sullivan Place.
And while the Food Sermon operates with admirable efficiency—one person holds court over giant rice cookers, another sears tofu blocks and five spice-crusted salmon steaks—it’s the type of hustle borne of cooking side by side on holidays, or manning the buffet at a church picnic. This crew knows how to feed a crowd, but there are no cut corners, no reliance on microwaves or deep-freezers. Those curry-rich shanks of lamb, gamey joints of goat, and fine-boned hunks of chicken have been simmering away all day, waiting to be dotted with red beans, chickpeas and honeyed morsels of sweet potato, and deposited over grains of white or brown rice, gasping greedily for every last droplet of ginger-coconut sauce (and if there’s anything left, consider chasing it with a floppy, anise-kissed piece of housemade roti).
“In Our Home, There is Laughter, There Are Mistakes, There is Noise, There are Apologies, There is Affection, There is Love” reads the edict on a dish towel. And at the Food Sermon, you can taste it.
The Food Sermon: 355 Rogers Avenue, Crown Heights