The weather’s been a little inconsistent lately, but the powerhouse team behind Sally Roots, a Caribbean American barbecue joint in Bushwick, just gave Bed-Stuy denizens a new place to warm up whenever they want – Sally’s.
Sally’s, which offers Asian-influenced Caribbean food and cocktails, is the latest project from partners and good friends James Freeman, Johnny De Piper, and James Beard Award-nominated restaurant designer Matthew Maddy. The interior was designed by Maddy who, along with his partner at American Construction League, Nico Arze, designed for some of the biggest names in the Brooklyn dining scene: Lilia, LaLou, and Colonia Verde. He’s also responsible for the Sally’s team’s first two projects, Weather Up and Sweet Science.
The team wanted to expand the concept behind Sally Roots into a section of Bed-Stuy where, they said, there wasn’t much competition from other bars, and they fell in love with the particular space, located at 151 Tompkins Avenue near the Myrtle-Willoughby subway station. The new spot feels like someone’s sunlit dream of a vintage rum bar with a murmur of Brooklyn creeping in through the windows – all ivory and white with lush greenery lining the walls. A repurposed greenhouse panel on one wall presents a faint beach scene, compounding the escapist vibe even further.
It’s the perfect place to crush one of De Piper’s easy-drinking cocktails, many of which are rum-based. De Piper’s signature “Irie” is a blend of juice from the tropical guanabana fruit – which tastes like something between a strawberry and a pineapple – as well as lime, cucumber, poblano, and rum from Bushwick-based Owney’s distillery. Irie is the Jamaican English term for “alright” or, generally, the state of feeling good. Other cocktails include the “Ya Mon” – a Japanese-leaning drink made with lemon, yuzu sake, and yet more rum – and the sky-blue “Fuhgeddaboudit”, made of coconut, Blue Curacao, and “all the rums,” according to the menu. All of the drinks, whether crisp or sugary, are meant to play well with the spiciness of the food.
The food goes down just as easily. De Piper designed the menu with Natalie Nera-Raab, the manager at Sally Roots, inspired by the unique melding of cuisines that comes from a long history of Asian immigration to the Caribbean. Dumplings are filled with either an oxtail-short rib blend, or with jerk veggies – a humble but delicious mish-mash of cabbage, carrots, and guandules, or pigeon peas, combined with jerk sauce.
There’s also a version of Crab Rangoon, which De Piper and Natalie spike with curry powder for a gentle nod to the Caribbean, and which comes with a Thai sweet chili sauce and mango chutney.
Chinese-style steamed buns were served at Sally Root’s for only a hot minute, but they worked so well there that they made it onto Sally’s menu. Both options, the pork and the mushroom, come with a duo of sauces – a homemade mojo, which combines garlic with herbs like parsley and cilantro, and hoisin. Rice bowls form the menu’s centerpiece, with five options: curried vegetables, curried chicken, pork fried rice, mushroom fried rice, and oxtail.
Ramen will join the menu as soon as Freeman and De Piper can nail down a provider for their noodles. When it finally hits, they plan to have three or four ramen varieties, each with a different Caribbean flavor profile, like braised oxtail or curry chicken.
Listening to Freeman and De Piper recount the birth of Sally Roots and, simultaneously, their friendship, is like hearing two old college buddies gleefully recounting antics from back in the day.
“[James] is one of my best friends in the world,” De Piper said.
Sally’s is a happy marriage of both De Piper’s and Freeman’s backgrounds. Freeman, who grew up moving back and forth between New York and St. Croix, was reared on Caribbean dishes like curry chicken and roti. De Piper was born in Italy and has lived all over Europe. The two of them together make an excellent team – they bounce ideas off each other like they’re doing a jam session, Freeman sporadically breaking into a lilting St. Croix accent.
While the food and drink are the centerpieces, Freeman and De Piper ultimately wanted Sally’s to be a gathering place.
“We try to create spaces that are friendly and welcoming to everybody,” De Piper said. “We don’t care who you are. Young, old, doesn’t matter who you are. We treat you exactly the same – and we try to get you to take shots with us.”
So far, that goal has been a success.
“We have neighbors that are coming to us saying “Oh my god, we’ve been waiting for something to come here!” Freeman said. The restaurant held a soft opening last month, and since then, De Piper said, “the neighborhood has really, really come out.”
Sally’s is open every day of the week, and is located at 151 Tompkins Avenue, corner of Willoughby Ave, in Bed-Stuy. While it doesn’t open until 5 p.m., the team plans to begin offering brunch starting in the warmer months, when they can count on better business. Happy hour is every day from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The kitchen closes at 12 a.m., while the bar stays open until 2 a.m.