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$20 Dinner

If You Want a Taste of Heaven You Must Go to East Williamsburg

"There's a lot of love here, and we want everyone to feel welcome."

The small BBQ rib dinner with mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread, $12

The small BBQ rib dinner with mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread, $12 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Tony and Melody Vergara—husband and wife, small business co-owners, and "Chef One and Chef Two," as Melody puts it—had zero experience running a restaurant when they first opened Taste of Heaven in East Williamsburg in 2015. 

Tony, who grew up in the Cooper Park Houses nearby, had already made it through a whole career as a truck driver. Melody, raised in the Red Hook Houses, just finished her 25 years as a NYC Corrections Officer. The couple were also busy all those years raising four children, the eldest of whom is now 36.

So, by the time they got to 2015, starting a business as demanding as a restaurant didn't really seem like the next obvious step. But as Melody told Hell Gate last week, "Tony's passion has always been cooking. The day that I met him he told me wanted to open a restaurant." When the opportunity to realize his dream unexpectedly dropped into their laps, they knew they had to take it, retirement be damned.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"The landlord of this place approached Tony, and basically gave it to him," Melody said of the location that was once a laundromat, a game room, and a church. "He wanted to give the space to someone who appreciated the neighborhood. And Tony's been very involved in this community for a long time, organizing things like basketball tournaments and back-to-school giveaways. He's very well liked, and very well known out here." 

"It's a whole new career for both of us," Melody continued. "But I believe in dreams, and this is it. If God gives you something that you want, and it's everything you always wanted, you can't say no."

The small jerk chicken dinner with rice and peas, cabbage, and cornbread, $12 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Taste of Heaven is a counter service steam table spot that serves overflowing plates of classic comfort food. First you choose your main, which usually means some excellent pork ribs, turkey wings, or chicken legs and thighs, all of which are roasted until the meat slides right off the bone. These are available with either BBQ sauce, some punchy jerk seasoning, or Jack Daniels sauce, which doesn't have any booze in it here and is sweet like teriyaki. 

Fish sandwich, $10 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

You get two sides with your meat ("small" dinners are $12 and are actually large; "large" dinners are $15 and huge), and there are a bunch from which to choose. Hell Gate wolfed down collard greens, some creamy mac and cheese, a mini-mountain of rice and peas, and a bunch of sweet cabbage with our dinners, and would recommend any of these to you. 

Other choices for sides on the day we went included candied yams, string beans, and potato and macaroni salad. You also get a slab of sticky cornbread with every meal, so make sure you're hungry when you arrive.

There's shrimp and some good fish here too, probably pollack, cornmeal-battered and fried to order, though the "sandwich" was three folded-over filets between two slices of bread, no condiments or toppings—so maybe get the dinner instead. Specials change daily, so you may or may not see oxtail, short ribs, shepherd's pie, lasagna, or rasta pasta on the menu. The quality of everything is high and consistent, so follow your cravings.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Taste of Heaven is very much a community hang, even after the pandemic forced the Vergaras to remove most of the indoor seating and rearrange the interior layout. By weird coincidence, on the day I ate here a TikTok featuring the place had just racked up tons of views, so there were more new faces than usual. But for the most part, everyone who walked in greeted Tony and Melody by name.

"I want people to feel at home here," Melody said. "Because that's what it is, this is like home for us. There's a lot of love here, and we want everyone to feel welcome." 

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Taste of Heaven is located at 251 Jackson Street in East Williamsburg, just west of Kingsland Avenue, and is currently open on Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m., and on Saturday from 1:00 to 7:00. Closed Sunday and Monday (718-576-3146) 

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