First-rate fried chicken is always a welcome addition in any neighborhood, so let's get the most important piece of information about the new Crown Heights spot Cornbread: Farm to Soul right off the bat. The counter service restaurant, which looks like it belongs in a suburban strip mall but in fact opened just a couple of weeks ago on Eastern Parkway, serves some very good fried bird indeed. Crisp-skinned, plenty of seasoning, juicy all the way through. Order with confidence.
Cornbread was founded about five years ago by Adenah Bayoh and Elzadie "Zadie" Smith. Both also work in real estate, but clearly have a personal investment in their soul-food enterprise. Smith grew up in Tifton, Georgia, and developed the Cornbread menu based on what she learned cooking with her parents back home, and Bayoh took on the project to honor her grandmother, a farmer and a restaurateur.
"Soul food for me has always been about the culture," Bayoh told Gothamist. "I grew up in West Africa, in Liberia, a country founded by ex-slaves, and most of our food was really food that ex-slaves brought back to Africa. We do collard greens, we do potato salad, we do yams, we do all of those things. So when I came to the United States, it was just this natural progression from what I was used to."
The pair are actively seeking to grow and franchise their fast-casual soul food concept, and last year the original Maplewood Cornbread was joined by a branch in Newark. The Brooklyn Cornbread, located on the ground floor of a luxury rental building on Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue, opened in June. As you can see in photos taken during a packed BYOChampagne brunch event, the Crown Heights community is happy about their new neighbor.
"The energy, the welcome, the love for what we're doing has been next level here," said Bayoh. "I wanted to bring something badass to Brooklyn, because Brooklyn's a badass place."
Despite the plush banquettes and energetic, clubby soundtrack, Cornbread operates like any other contemporary counter-service restaurant. You order via touch-screen kiosk at one end of the steam-table assembly line, then loiter around, or grab a seat and keep your ears perked, until somebody shouts out your name and hands over your food.
Fried chicken is the star here, but there are other solid options as well. The side dishes, always so crucial to your overall pleasure at any Southern/soul food place, are given the love they deserve, with hefty servings of smoky collard greens, dense macaroni and cheese, and chewy black-eyed peas scooped out from those big trays.
You can have your chicken baked if you want, or get a stack of messy-looking turkey wings, or BBQ pork ribs. There are two kinds of fried fish on the menu, jumbo fillets of whiting or catfish, the latter of which we made quick work of stuffed inside a mayo-heavy po' boy. And as you would hope in a restaurant of this name, the greasy, sweet cornbread hits the spot.
There's syrupy, sugary peach or apple cobbler on the menu, but a glass of Cornbread's house-made sweet tea handles dessert duty with equal efficacy. Prices are more what you'd expect at a full-service restaurant than a fast-food joint: for instance, a three-piece fried chicken meal, which comes with two sides and a triangular slice of cornbread, costs $21 plus tax.
Three more Cornbread locations are set to open sometime this year: one on Ralph Avenue in Bed-Stuy, and the others in Jersey City and Montclair, New Jersey.
Cornbread: Farm To Soul is located at 409 Eastern Parkway, at the corner of Bedford Avenue, and is currently open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (718-493-7685; cornbreadsoul.com)