It takes a certain amount of swagger to mess around with that West Indian classic, the Bake and Saltfish, in the heart of Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean. But Mike and Nicole Nicholas, who co-own the excellent all-vegan cafe Aunts et Uncles on Nostrand Avenue, pull it off in style.
For one thing, Mike grew up literally around the corner from this instantly essential restaurant and gathering place, and the couple have long been a vital part of the community. Even more important, the vegan Bake and Saltfish at Aunts et Uncles, made with sautéed hearts of palm rather than the usual white fish and not skimping at all on the scotch bonnets, is outstanding, a delicious sandwich by any measure, full of fire and flavor-packed into a wonderfully soft and chewy bake, or roll.
“It was important for us to open a vegan restaurant here in Flatbush,” Nicole told Gothamist this week. “The neighborhood has been pretty much a food desert for most of our lives, and seeing so many of our friends and family members passing away due to ailments that seem to plague our communities, like high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes, we decided it was necessary to show up differently. To introduce a better way of eating. We’re not out here trying to force veganism onto the community, just suggesting ways to make better eating habits and choices.”
With food this good, those better choices are easy to make. The All Green Everything plate, to take another example of the plant-based delights you’ll find here, is a beautifully composed dish of crisp and firm okra, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus—that maybe sounds a tad too austere except it also stars a big portion of sprightly homemade pesto that brings a nice little oomph to every bite.
Another winner here is the Cryan Ryan Cauliflower, the perhaps overly-familiar vegetable given a fresh taste with a thick, spicy peanut sauce. There’s a lot more on the menu I’m excited to try here too, like the mound of Mofongo, the smoky Mac n Cheese, the French Toast, and the Au Burger, with spicy mayo and BBQ sauce on a pretzel bun. For dessert I gleefully devoured a pumpkin, brownie-like pastry called the Pone-Delight, which was so good on its own I was saddened only slightly that they were out of ice cream to top it off.
It was a large dinner to say the least, but the friendly staff took it all in stride. As Nicole says, “We considered our own Aunts et Uncles to be like the ‘Cool Parents,’ and our family confidantes. Mike and I both come from really huge families where they played an integral role in our lives, with their immersive wisdom, experience, and cultural knowledge providing reassurance and inspiration. So what better way to honor them than to give guests here a place of encouragement and no judgment.”
The physical space here is elegant and inviting, with seating for about 18 inside at tables and the bar–I snagged the coveted window sofa area–and a few three-tops set up on the sidewalk outside. Lots of plants bring warmth to the design, and there are several shelving units with merchandise, books, and clothing for sale, which adds to the domestic feel.
It didn’t come easy, all of this comfort and style. “We actually acquired the space in October of 2019,” says Nicole, “and thought we’d open three or four months later, but there was a lot to deal with structurally within the space, and to be honest acquiring loans and such turned out to be much harder than we anticipated. Then came a family tragedy, and then the pandemic lockdown, and for a little while our dreams seemed unattainable. But Mike and I put on our contractor hats, and pushed through day by day, little by little. I’m sure we still have dust up our noses from all of the work we pretty much had to do on our own!”
Aunts et Uncles is located at 1407 Nostrand Avenue, between Martense Street and Linden Boulevard, and is currently open from Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (347-295-0001; auntsetuncles.com)