Jessie Byron is flanked by her sons, Parnell "Pops" Gervais, left,...

Jessie Byron is flanked by her sons, Parnell "Pops" Gervais, left, and Wagner "Poosh" Gervais, and Parnell's son, Preston Gervais, at Pops & Poosh in Baldwin. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Jessie Byron relied on diplomacy when asked, “How is a Haitian patty different from the Jamaican ones?” But while she held her tongue, a glance and a bite made it clear that the latter, a specialty of her Baldwin restaurant, Pops & Poosh, was only dimly related to the bright yellow, semicircular Jamaican patties that are much better known in the U.S.

Byron’s patties, made fresh in Pops & Poosh’s Baldwin kitchen, are rectangular, encased in golden-brown puff pastry and stuffed to the gills with beef, chicken, cod, conch, pork, shrimp, herring or vegetables. She explained that meat patties are the most traditional post-church Sunday nosh in Haiti; in Baldwin they make a prelude to a Haitian feast, whether eaten in Pops & Poosh's tidy storefront or packed up to be enjoyed at home.

Pops & Poosh opened last year, named after the owners, Byron’s sons, Parnell "Pops" Gervais and Wagner "Poosh" Gervais. They wanted to give their mother the chance to live out her dream of running a restaurant. Pops and Poosh handle the front of the house; Byron runs the kitchen assisted by her husband, pastry specialist Edvard Byron, and her brother, Gregory Gervais.

Jessie Byron grew up in Haiti and moved to the U.S. when she was 17, graduating from CUNY's York College. “I probably should have been a chef,” she recalled, “but my family expected me to have a more traditional career.” She worked for more than 25 years at the United Nations as a program associate focusing on Africa and, during her tenure, traveled the world. Again and again she found that sharing a meal was the best way to get to know strangers and their cultures.

Most dishes on her menu are imbued with the savor of Haiti through the use of epis, a seasoning mixture that contains scallion, parsley, thyme, garlic, peppers and cloves. Pork shoulder is gently cooked with epis until it falls off the bone at which point it is cut into large chunks and deep-fried, the crackling crust complementing the tender meat. This is the great Haitian dish griot, always accompanied by pikliz, a spicy, astringent take on coleslaw.

Pork griot and other Haitian specialties at Pops & Poosh...

Pork griot and other Haitian specialties at Pops & Poosh in Baldwin. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

Byron said that the most traditional Haitian dish is griot and fried plantains served alongside diri ak pwa, kidney beans and rice. She uses fragrant basmati rice for this as well as for diri djondjon, the “black rice” that gets its dark color from a type of mushroom that grows near the roots of fruit trees. The rice provided a delicious bed for stewed conch (lambi an sos). Byron insists on only using conch from Belize which, after a spell in her pressure cooker, barely needs a knife to cut it.

Other entrees include fried goat, fried or sautéed fish, stewed chicken or vegetables. On Fridays, you can get platters of griot, pork or fish alongside sweet potatoes, fried plantains and fritters of accra (yautia, a corm similar to taro).

Every Sunday Pops & Poosh makes soupe joumou, a soup so entwined with Haitian culture that, in 2021, it was added to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List (which also includes North African couscous and Neapolitan pizza). Before Haiti gained independence from France in 1804, this winter-squash soup was made by enslaved people for their French masters. But, Byron explained, “the people were not permitted to eat the soup. Ever since independence, Haitian people have eaten it to celebrate their freedom, their health and prosperity. On New Year’s Day in Haiti, everyone eats soupe joumou.”

Most main dishes hover around $20; most sides are less than $7. There are imported Haitian soft drinks and homemade lemonade.

Pops & Poosh, 988 Merrick Rd., Baldwin, open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; 516-223-2600, 516-223-2600,

Top Stories


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months