New York

Dept of Culture Opens in Bed-Stuy With Nigerian Food

When Ayo Balogun opened Civil Service Coffee in Bed-Stuy again in 2013 it was a reasonably easy espresso store that turned a neighborhood staple — till a number of years in the past, when a automotive tragically crashed by means of the storefront inflicting it to close down. Months later, Balogun reopened the espresso store underneath a brand new identify, the Council, with a sleeker look. Here, he started to suppose extra about how you can infuse his Nigerian roots, like incorporating the crimson pepper and tomato-based obe sauce into his egg sandwiches — flavors he had experimented with in pop-up dinners held at his since-closed Bed-Stuy restaurant, the Trade Union Cafe, which opened in 2015.

During the pandemic, at a time when folks have been craving for extra occasions to attend safely, Balogun introduced again the dinner pop-ups he came to be known for at Trade Union, which came about on the sidewalk of the relaunched Council espresso store. On Saturday, January 15, Balogun debuts a everlasting restaurant impressed by these dinners with Dept of Culture (pronounced Department of Culture), positioned at 327 Nostrand Avenue, close to Quincy Street.

“To be honest, during the pandemic, I was really just looking for something fun to do that highlighted my culture,” says Balogun of the pop-ups. But the dinners impressed Balogun to focus extra on the meals he grew up with in the state of Kwara and he discovered himself in search of a everlasting area the place he might host extra constantly with a Nigerian-focused menu that would carry collectively neighbors close to and much.


Ayo Balogun inside of his new Bed-Stuy restaurant.

With Dept of Culture, Balogun desires to showcase Nigerian cooking, with an eye fixed for his residence state in North Central Nigeria. He hopes that, on the very least, the restaurant can underscore the regional variations throughout the continent. “African food is so often all lumped together,” he says, exasperatedly. “There are [so many] spoken languages in Nigeria alone… think of all the different food that comes with it.”

A variety of dishes at Dept of Culture.

Much continues to be in flux about how Dept of Culture will run day-to-day. The tasting menu format might change, however Balogun, who’s at present chef and proprietor, plans to supply a three-dish tasting menu for $60 with a la carte choices.


Balogun envisions the expertise at Dept of Culture to be completely different than his espresso retailers. Overall, the concise menu will attempt to emulate the sensation of cafes in Nigeria, however he’s positioned it as one thing extra akin to a advantageous eating restaurant.

Throughout January, diners will discover recent fish pepper soup simmering on the range, a dish, he says, he has fond reminiscences of rising up that was identified for being further spicy in his residence. His model makes use of swordfish as an alternative of the same old tilapia or catfish.

Suya — the favored Nigerian road meals of grilled skewers, typically offered with crimson meat — is obtainable with a alternative of mushrooms, octopus, or hen right here. However the menu evolves, Balogun says he desires to maintain the dishes conventional the way in which “an auntie might prepare it,” however he additionally desires choices catering to all sorts of diets. Hence, he determined to organize his tackle jollof rice — an add-on choice to the set menu — with out hen or goat inventory, to maintain the dish vegan.

The final of the three programs is pounded yam with efo riro (stewed greens), wara (a milk curd recipe, specific to his native state of Kwara), with a alternative of protein resembling striped bass or lamb shank.


For dessert, there’s a little bit complimentary “surprise” of roasted plantains sauteed in maple syrup, that’s served with ice cream.

The fish pepper soup is made right here with swordfish.

For every of Balogun’s hospitality ventures, he sees the meals and drinks as solely the beginning. Dept of Culture’s identify nods to Balogun’s upbringing in a household that labored for numerous arms of the Kwara authorities. He hopes the brand new restaurant shall be a spot the place folks can come to eat, in addition to share artwork and speak politics. To that finish, the artwork may also rotate all through the area and a file participant will spin previous Nigerian albums.

With solely 16 seats on the restaurant — cut up between a communal desk and some counter seats — the intention is for even the “most shy” patrons, Balogun tells Eater, to get an opportunity to satisfy somebody new.

To begin, Balogun will supply two dinner seatings per evening — doubtless at 6 and eight p.m. — that have to be reserved in advance on Tock (that can shortly go dwell) or through Instagram DMs. The restaurant shall be open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, with breakfast — open without having a reservation — to observe.

The exterior of Dept of Culture.

Art will rotate on the partitions at Dept of Culture.

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