Bronx Eats: Come for the I-tal, Stay for the Upside Down Cake at H.I.M. Market, Wakefield
Healthy eating isn't exactly easy to come by in the Northeast Bronx, where the restaurant scene is dominated by West Indian and generic take out joints peddling greasy, fatty food. There are some gems, but even these don't offer food that's both tasty and decent for you.
So H.I.M Market on White Plains Road, a Rasta-run bodega with a steam table driven by I-tal dietary principles, is a diamond in the rough for those seeking lighter fare in Wakefield. I-tal is the food of the Rastafarians: vegetarian or vegan cuisine that's addictive despite sometimes being salt-free. While they have steam table fare available everyday, it's their vegan upside down cake that you'll want to drop by for.
"We only bake it once a week," one of the owners told me, "because it's still a treat."
They say still because there's no refined sugar, dairy or eggs in this cake. Given the leaden, overly-sweetened, mostly carelessly constructed, and stale treats you'll find abound in this and other parts of the Bronx, this cake is destination-worthy for the local crowd. It's certainly the best sweet I've found east of Riverdale this far uptown.
Crumbly without being too loose, the cake is just a touch sweet, plenty moist, and—this is not as common up here as it should be—fresh. A ring of thinly sliced, bland pineapple and a sticky icing top the cake, but they don't make or break it. The owners say customers come in droves for this confection, available only on Friday or Saturday, not unbelievable given the quality of sweets in the neighborhood.
The savory fare, which includes tofu dressed up like fish or chicken, mashed potatoes, and black eyed pea fritters (crispy on the outside, and soft but not mushy on the inside, they're bursting with spices and the best thing from the steam table), is so clean-tasting it's almost refreshing. But the food (three to four items, or a medium container, runs you $4.50) is also, for the most part, uninspired and harmlessly bland. Vegan patties and warm, fluffy pancakes ($.75) called fritter and made with spinach, banana, and blueberries, offer your taste buds more satisfaction. Deviate to the shelves and you might find something for your pantry more to your liking.
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats and Anatomy of A Smorgasburg Pop Up columns. Follow him on Twitter, if you'd like. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob, or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.