Cross Bronx Mecca

17 May

B.B. African and American Restaurant
1715 Webster Avenue
Bronx, NY

The B.B. African and American Restaurant was just off the Cross Bronx Expressway, on semi-industrial Webster Avenue, wedged between a Taco Bell and a Puerto Rican Lechonera and across the street from a West African video store. There were no subway stops nearby. No signs of gentrification at all. After the regretful Nomad experience, we were happily in familiar territory. When we noticed that the dim restaurant was lit mainly by the big screen television where European and African soccer was playing; that there were only men inside with the exception of two women in the kitchen, and that there were sandals and prayer mats tucked off to the side of the dining area, we were even more reassured that we were in the right place.

Webster Avenue & the Cross Bronx: Gentrification-proof

 The owner, Mr. B.B., an emigrant of Guinea, was also our host and offered us tea or bottled non-diet drinks. It was apparent that the clientele was predominately Muslim and that no alcohol was served here. So Lipton or overly sweet Mistic-brand drinks were our options. The menu featured the “American” portion first where hamburgers, eggs, sandwiches, even pastas were offered. We skipped past it to the last page where we found the West African choices. Mike from Yonkers, displaying his dubious knowledge of foods African, recited a few items from the menu to see if they were available; his pronunciation of them mystifying Mr. B.B. They were not. But Mr. B.B. assured us that they had everything else. Mike from Yonkers tried again—again he was thwarted. But despite the setbacks, Mr. B.B. said he had fish, tilapia to be exact; he had plenty of goat meat, and he had beef, lamb and chicken, “very good chicken” he added. To make things easier for him and for us, we told him to put together a good representation of his menu; that we had no dietary restrictions.

While we waited very patiently for the parade of dishes to make it to our table, Eugene, savvy cruise boat veteran that he claims to be, gave Zio a few worthless tips for Zio’s upcoming cruise through the Mediterranean and back across the Atlantic. As is usual, the conversation got loud, but didn’t seem to disrupt the African in robe and skull cap who was praying on the mat adjacent to our table.

    A huge platter of peas in a thick, tomato sauce arrived first quickly followed by an equally large plate of crispy fried goat meat surrounded by onions—the small pieces of meat chewy, as goat tends to be, but without its usual heavy gaminess.  Mr. B.B. returned almost immediately with another platter, this one piled with thin lamb chops, also smothered in onions. Knowing we would need more room, our intrepid host added another table for us to accommodate the growing collection of platters. Two bowls of stewed chicken arrived next, the chicken tender and moist floating in a rich, peanut-thickened gravy. Following the chicken were three whole, robust tilapia, ready for our attention. Mike from Yonkers immediately grabbed one and began shredding flesh from bone while Rick advised that he would hold out for the fish cheeks, as they were the most flavorful and tender part of the fish.

Chicken stew in peanut sauce

    Though our combined tables were overflowing, Mr. B.B. forgot the rice and peanut gravy and quickly returned with them. I asked for a hot sauce and he brought a squeeze-top French’s “Original Yellow” mustard bottle. He warned that it wasn’t mustard, but very hot sauce. Ignoring Mike from Yonkers’ petty gripe that the rice was overcooked, I took some and sprinkled the sauce on it. It had a mustard-base, like French’s “Original Yellow” but with about ten times the kick.

    We slowly cleaned the platters while Mr. B.B. told us of his journey from Guinea to Buffalo, New York, and ultimately to the Bronx, where he opened the restaurant in 1997. Though the restaurant seemed busy, he was lamenting the current state of his business; that he could not keep up with inflation by raising prices on the menu because his customers would leave him for the growing number of rival African restaurants that had sprouted in the area. Even a one or two dollar increase on an item and he might lose a customer. So who were we to complain when we got our bill and noticed that the items on the menu, had, in fact, gone up a dollar or two from what was listed. Though we were a couple of dollars over our allotted $20 budget, there were leftovers, a rarity at our gatherings—goat meat Gerry gladly took home for something to gnaw on when his colossal appetite would, in an hour or two, most likely return.

 B.B African and American Restaurant, despite, Mr. B.B.’s worries back in 2006, remains open. In fact, after a recent visit, I noticed that everything about the semi-industrial enclave has remained exactly as it was on our visit except that maybe the constant traffic roar from the nearby Cross Bronx Expressway has gotten even louder.

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