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The Caribbean patty is one of New York City’s most important vernacular foods. They are omnipresent, and in fact – those outside New York may not realize – you can often get a patty at a pizzeria, or at a hot dog cart, where they’re displayed next to knishes. There may not be such a thing as a truly bad patty, but they’re almost never as tremendous as the golden parcels prepared by Shirwin Burrowes, the Barbadian American chef behind Pop’s Patties

Offered at three locations of Brooklyn’s Winner – its bakery/cafe, butcher shop, and cafe/bar – Pop’s patties share menu space with meticulously laminated French pastries and inventive sandwiches using house made charcuterie on the bakery’s beloved sourdough. It’s the patty’s special status in New York that makes this seem natural. “The patty for us here – a lot of people don’t even associate it with Jamaican food,” Burrowes tells me. “So if it’s a New York City thing, [I want to] make it the best version of a New York City thing.” 

Burrowes filling an oxtail patty.

Born in Saint Philip, Barbados, Burrowes was raised in a family that valued eating well. “The food I ate at home was mostly Eastern Caribbean,” he says, but when he moved with his family to The Bronx at age ten, “I learned about the Latin Caribbean side of it, and took trips down to Chinatown,” he recalls. “It definitely opened my eyes to how far food can go.”  

Though patties are often thought of as Jamaican, they’re also eaten across Barbados as well. “When I was a kid, it was usually local bakeries making their own patties – their shapes would be a little different, and [the crust] is a little closer to puff pastry,” he says. 

And Burrowes’ crust is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Pop’s Patties. With a crackly pattern like golden crocodile leather, the shells are elegant yet clearly hand-crimped. He uses what he refers to as “real, nice butter,” and turmeric for color: they’re flaky, full-flavored, substantial enough to stand up to the fillings while delicate enough to melt in your mouth. 

Patty line-up.

After high school, Burrowes tried two years of college before landing at culinary school and his first kitchen job – at the West Side Tennis Club. At night, he’d stage at a now-closed French-Japanese restaurant, which catapulted him into New York’s fine dining ecosystem. Fifteen years in some of New York’s most renowned kitchens followed – time on the line at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and The Nomad were formative, but after a while, he says, “I just felt like I wasn’t being true to myself. I was like, ‘I just wanna cook the food that I wanna eat.’” That’s how he landed at one of his favorite restaurants – the Michelin-starred Nolita Thai restaurant Uncle Boons, where he rose to the position of Chef de Cuisine. 

Though he’d never worked in a Thai kitchen, Burrowes quickly established connections between Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. “There are a lot of similarities,” he says “a lot of high acid, spice, coconut milk, and seafood.” To the disappointment of many, Uncle Boons shuttered in 2020, one of the highest profile pandemic closures in the city. 

Before long, I was seeing Burrowes’ name among the pop-up lineups at Winner’s first cafe in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, a pandemic success story in part for its incubation of culinary talent among out-of-work chefs. This was also the genesis of Pop’s. “I would occasionally offer a patty with my dinners, and of all the dishes I did, all the different things, people would say, ‘Are you making patties again?’” So Burrowes decided to sharpen his focus: “I wanna try to do one thing as best as I possibly can,” he remembers thinking. That’s how he landed on his patties. 

Plantain and saltfish.

My favorite of Burrowes’ patties is the sweet plantain and bacalao, which combines mashed plantain and saltfish cooked down with bell pepper, onion, thyme, and garlic. It’s based on a dish his mom prepares for breakfast, but for this version, Burrowes makes the saltfish himself from scratch: he packs fresh hake in salt and carefully monitors it in the walk-in for up to a week. “It’s a lot of fucking work,” he says, laughing.

His beef patty starts with ground beef from the whole animals Winner Butcher brings in. In the frozen beef patties that proliferate around the city, the meat filling is a sort of brown sludge – in Pop’s Patties, the chunks of beef are meaty and distinct, like in a bowl of good chili. Allspice, scallion, and thyme are present in full force, and this is on purpose. “I wanted it to be like – you’re eating a beef patty; this is seasoned. Most of these patty places will have a spicy one and a mild one, [but] I was just like, this is what it’s gonna be.” 

Curry vegetables fill the vegetarian option, though they’re popular with everyone. Inspired by Trinidadian curries, whose influence can also be felt in Barbados, Burrowes wanted to combine his favorite ingredients into one package. “I love channa, curry pumpkin, and callaloo, [but] places that do the vegan patties will do one of those things. I [wanted to] combine it all.” It’s perfect – nourishing from the mix of produce and rich from the inclusion of Thai coconut milk.

Worth every cent.

Other fillings include jerk chicken and oxtail-shortrib – both of which are often sold out when I go – as well as occasional specials. For a recent one, Burrowes butchered a whole goat from a farm upstate for curry goat patties. 

It would be remiss of me to overlook the price point, which at $6 a piece are certainly more expensive than the average New York City patty. For comparison, my second-favorite patties are $3.50. Are these at least twice as good? It’s not even a question. “I want Caribbean food to have a moment,” Burrowes tells me, “where the chefs and creators are demanding the proper – not just respect – but value. Commanding what this is really worth.” 

Burrowes makes his own pastry, butchers whole animals, blooms his own curry blend, salts his own fish, and makes one thousand patties by hand each week. It’s hard to overstate how exceptional they are, but it takes an astounding amount of work. I tell him it sounds like he prioritizes flavor at the expense of efficiency. He laughs. “And sleep,” he says.

Check-out Pop’s Patties on Instagram. Header image by Luke Pyenson.

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