>> Tropical Grill | Eat the World NYC

29 October 2018

Tropical Grill


On the stretch of Rockaway Blvd that turns southeast past the cricket field of Baisley Pond Park, not much of interest happens between here and JFK. Car repair shops make up the majority of businesses until the boulevard gets closer to the airport and commercial buildings turn into cheap hotels used by airport staff. Though just north of the Belt Parkway is a tiny little strip mall and the storefront of Tropical Grill, the area's most popular West African restaurant.

On a sunny day, opening the door is like stepping into an unfamiliar place blindfolded. The windows are heavily tinted and most of the lights are off, requiring a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. This happened to me the first of three times I came here back in spring while doing World Cup research. I thought the place was completely empty but could barely make out the shadow of their wrap-around bar and made my way there. Once my eyes adjusted, I could see solo diners digging into meals at a couple tables.

The second visit corresponded to the week of Nigerian Independence, of which they were advertising for an all night party they were about to host. During this visit, I sampled a couple of Nigerian beers and got a better lay of the land. In addition to Star, which I have seen at other West African restaurants on occasion, they also carry Gulder (above), a new beer to me.

The bar roughly cuts the place in two, with the dining section as you enter and the lounge area beyond. Booths with velvet ropes are ready to go for nights that can go well into morning. Search the place online and most of the photos are from these parties.

Afternoon is a good time to come for food though, as the kitchen staff is all here and not too busy. My eyes were on the fish pepper stew ($15, below) from the beginning, a meal that always promises to be up there with the most fiery.

After overhearing my order with the manager, a woman just arriving for her shift had a concerned look on her face and asked me:

"Have you ever had that before?"

This was honest worry though, and I smiled and told her I was prepared to sweat. The fish came out as spicy as it is supposed to be, and definitely got my head hot. Beyond spice levels, the "soup" component is complex and wonderful.

The two TVs here always seem to be on and playing different shows with audio, sometimes a tacky court show is on simultaneously with CNN, or an afternoon talk show does battle with a soap opera. Even better is when someone switches to music and drowns out the TVs. On one such occasion, I had to grab the shoulder of the man who had put on some fantastic music because getting his attention was otherwise impossible as he had closed his eyes to sing along.

Tropical Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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