By Clare Baierl | [email protected]
It’s hard to stand out among the flooded streets of Williamsburg. Restaurants and shops line the busy streets of Bedford Ave, hoping to entice passerbyers with colorful window displays and fancy signs. But walk past McCarren Park, down 11th St. and you will find something different. A simple building, with a simple but daunting task. Rethink Caribbean food.
For Kevin and Ria Graham, opening a restaurant had never been in the life plan, but neither had their whirlwind romance either. After meeting at a culinary event for Black History Month, the two-hit it off, and their partnership began. In less than a year, the pair was already married with a baby on the way.
Before she knew it, Ria had become a stay-at-home mom.
“I started feeling unsatisfied,” Graham explained, “I knew that I wanted to get back out there.”
So the couple put their heads together and decided to start a restaurant.
Kevin had experience in events and the culinary scene, while Ria brought the marketing knowledge, together forming a business partnership as harmonious as their personal one.
They opened their flagship Caribbean restaurant, Kokomo, in July of 2020, quickly gaining a following of loyal fans. It was the height of the pandemic, and if opening a restaurant in general was hard, this was on another level. But the atmosphere and the food stood for itself, the restaurant quickly became a neighborhood staple.
Now, three years later, the Grahams are taking their Caribbean concept to another level, with a fast-casual modern take on the flavors they know so well. The concept is simple, a healthier version of Carribean food. They want their guests to experience the classic spices and foods of the Caribbean paired in new and inventive ways.
The name of the restaurant, OxKale, follows this concept to its core. Inspired by the classic Caribbean meal of Oxtail, the name uses a play on words to include the beloved health food of the moment: Kale.
“We don’t serve traditional dishes in a traditional way,” Ria explained. “There isn’t one thing on the menu that you can find at another Caribbean restaurant.” The menu is packed with colorful dishes, everything from bright salads, jerk chicken and oxtail bowls, to their newest creation, a Gyroti.
The dish, a meld between Roti and a Gyro, is a staple of OxKale. Inspired by two staples of Trindadian cuisine, the finished product is a soft, slightly crispy, thick wrap that holds meats and vegetables like warm island-dream. “It’s kind of like our brain love child,” said Ria. “We brought two different cuisines; the Mediterranean and the Caribbean cuisine, into one beautiful mixture.”
Going into the second week since opening, the restaurant is already bustling. Now, with expanded hours, those looking to try OxKale can come in anytime until 2 am on weekends.
“If the cravings hit late, you don’t have to break your diet,” Kevin said with a laugh.