I Take Back Everything Bad I Ever Said About Midtown: B&D Halal Restaurant
Posted on July 31, 2014 | By ebassford
My doctor’s office is walkable from work, and on the way back from my last routine checkup I took a slightly different route than last time. I was in a rush, so I couldn’t stop, but something exciting caught my eye: food. The name of the place was B&D Halal Restaurant, which by itself wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Foods bearing the “halal” designation are all over midtown, and usually take the familiar form of lamb and/or chicken over rice sold out of a cart, in levels of quality that range from transcendent to vomit-inducing. My favorite cart near work disappeared some time ago, and I haven’t been to one since. The guy always gave me a free falafel ball with my chicken, and once correctly identified another customer as being from New Jersey based on the fact that he ordered a combination of white sauce and barbecue sauce on his platter. Is that a thing? I had no idea, but this guy did. He knew his trade.
The thing that caught my eye was a stock graphic of Africa on the awning. I realize that saying “I love African food” is about as coherent as saying “I love European food”, but it is just an empirical fact that everything I’ve eaten from a restaurant which follows any of the culinary traditions of Africa has been excellent. I am reminded of Fouta back in the Bronx, where the menu offered “fish”, “chicken”, “lamb”, or unspecified “meat” served with rice or noodles or these excellent fried plantains that fell kind of halfway between tostones and maduros; or Abidjan near my old place in Bushwick, where I had a perfect whole fish with some sort of spicy escabeche-type thing while watching a megachurch sermon on a giant TV in 5.1 surround sound; or this place Carlos and I went once before a gig at Free Candy that I don’t even remember the name of that served amazing chicken in peanut-based sauce and was full of extended families even though it was kind of late and told us they closed “whenever people stop coming, maybe 3?”. I had to get back to work, but I filed this place away for future reference. “Future”, in this case, being as soon as I got out of work.
B&D is not fancy. Food is served cafeteria-style from steam tables, and decor is sparse. It serves one purpose: to purvey large quantities of food quickly and cheaply. Said food is fucking amazing. I admit, I went a little overboard, purchasing what turned out to be a pound and a half of food. Said pound and a half cost me eleven dollars.
Let’s start on the upper left and go clockwise. First up we have black-eyed peas, in some sort of stewed form, with that nice toothsome texture that comes of having been cooked from dry form rather than out of a can. Excellent. Piquant, vinegary collard greens, not unlike the Southern variety, also stewed, stopped just short of being mushy. A chicken thigh, juicy as fuck, doused with copious amounts of extra juice from the pan, a savory start and a slight bite of spice at the very end. The skin had a nice crispy texture rare in roasted chicken, especially such a juicy one. Rice, which I am pretty sure was some variety of jollof rice, a perfect starchy compliment to the meat. There were little bits of bones studded throughout the rice, which necessitated cautious eating but confirmed my initial guess that this rice was cooked with a real stock made out of bones rather than from a can or powder. Each grain stood out, almost like a fried rice, or the rice you scrape off the bottom of the pot. And last but not least, chunks of charred, fatty lamb with mustard and raw onions. I was familiar with the mustard-and-onions combination from Fouta back in the day, and it is a winner. The meat by itself is good– chewy, flavorful, just this side of burnt, like it came right off an open flame or at very least under a broiler– but not amazing by itself. But something about the addition of mustard and onions takes this meat to the next level. It is hard to describe the synergy that occurs, but the mustard and onions add a sort of bright and clean finish, while also intensifying the spices in the lamb. There is no way to eat this neatly with utensils, especially the plastic ones provided. It is strictly a fingers-and-face affair, and I had to floss like I hadn’t flossed in some time to get it all out of my teeth later that night. I am sure my breath smelled terrible. This is not a place you would take a date, unless you have been living together for several years and the mystique is totally gone and you both routinely pee with the door open. But good God, what a meal. And if I ate like a normal person instead of someone who had deliberately had minimal lunch in anticipation of pigging the fuck out, it would have been quite affordable.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the food was this beverage.
The key thing to notice here is that there is more ginger in it than anything else. It is legit extremely spicy with ginger. The lemon overpowers the pineapple a bit, but the pineapple is unmistakably there. If you put some rum in this you could charge twelve bucks for it. I had one with my meal and got another one to go. I was intrigued by a red drink in a similar container that I saw about to be stocked as I left. Something like sorrel, maybe? It wasn’t for sale yet, the guy was just about to apply handmade labels to a case of them, and I already had more juice than I needed for the road. I’ll just have to go back. You should go, too. When I went to use the restroom, I encountered this sign:
So when you eat at B&D, take care of your ritual purification elsewhere. After you eat.