For vegetarians and the health conscious, a culinary castle founded in Kings County and re-opened in Queens, caters to locals and travelers in-the-know.
Veggie Castle, five minutes from Kennedy Airport (plus a three-hour flight from the Caribbean) is a first-stop destination for reggae artists like Taurus Riley, Mr. Vegas
and Luciano as well as sports players like L.A. Laker Lamar Odum, who quench their appetite for vegetables, soy products and smoothies.
The small space, which borders South Jamaica and Richmond Hill and only advertises by word of mouth, has an impressive a veggie buffet, veggie patties, veggie burgers, sandwiches and fries and a full-service juice and smoothie bar.Two stools in the back and a bench outside make the place a perfect for stop-and-go at the popular spot.
“We all know that access to good food is what we really need to help fight obesity, diabetes and other sickness in our community,” said owner Viburt Bernard. “The community needs more options especially in parts of Brooklyn and Queens where people can’t afford expensive food. We do not serve processed food and we minimize sugar and salt.”
Veggie Castle is the little sister of Sybil’s, a Guyanese restaurant chain with three locations in Brooklyn and Queens, one right next door. The eatery was founded more than 30 years ago by Sybil Bernard, a Guyanese immigrant and single mother of nine, who began cooking and selling food out of her small home in Far Rockaway to support her family. Since her death in 2001, the restaurants have been run by some of her children, including Bernard and his son.
While Bernard was helping to run Sybil’s in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a nearby White Castle shut its doors and the building became available. With prompting from friends who encouraged him to go healthy and cater to the local population of vegetarians and Rastafarians, he turned the location into Veggie Castle.
Before the Flatbush location closed, due to high overhead in 2007, the restaurant became a destination for vegetarians throughout New York City, as well as celebrities such as Common, Erykah Badu and the band Gym Class Heroes. The Richmond Hill location, opened in 2005, is convenient for travelers and is on the border of “Little Guyana.”
Jamaican reggae artist Kashuman, who was in the city for a performance, was ordering a steaming plate of brown rice, tofu and vegetables and sitting outside on a recent Friday afternoon.
“This is my first time in New York,” said Kashuman, whose promotion company suggested the restaurant. “I’m not vegetarian, but I love to eat vegetarian meals.”
Restaurant devotee Zee Zay, comes to the restaurant twice a day for the best-selling Ital Jockey smoothie, a mixture of oats, cashews, sea moss, banana, soy protein, bee pollen and soy milk.
“Veggie Castle is the best thing that ever happened to Liberty Ave.,” he said. The smoothies “make me feel energetic.”
Shimika Madera, of Ozone Park, drives to the restaurant at least three times a week for the soy chicken.
“It makes vegetarian food really delicious and makes people more open to eat it,” Madera said.
Veggie Castle, 132-09 Liberty Ave., Richmond Hill, Queens, 718-641-8342, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Veggie-Castle-Restaurant/139065512794348