“When people enjoy my food, then they can know a little about me,” says Erika Jo, manager of Baby Skip’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. “In the Philippines, people love to be appreciated for hard work.” On a sunny October afternoon, I spoke to Jo, who moved from the Philippines nearly a decade ago, and in honor of Filipino-American Heritage Month, I was treated to the Longanisa Egg & Waffle dish featured on the brunch menu at her coffee shop.
Jo has worked for Linda Thach at various “Little Skips” locations for nearly four years. While the shuttering of the original Little Skips location has been emotional for longtime patrons of the popular Bushwick café, Thach’s three businesses—Little Mo, Baby Skips, and Little Skips East remain—continuing the Skips legacy.
“I love learning about other cultures,” says Thach, who is a Cambodian immigrant herself. “And having Erika [Jo] bring in her background keeps her excited and invested in the kitchen project.” Baby Skips is separated from Little Mo by an ornate rolling wall; the latter provides delightful Vietnamese Cambodian fusion cuisine to the neighborhood, and Thach’s vision was to to add some cohesion between the two businesses by incorporating Jo’s heritage to the Baby Skips brunch menu, which is made entirely from scratch.
The Longanisa Egg & Waffle is a heartfelt and thoughtfully constructed dish. In addition to the waffle being gluten free (it is comprised of tapioca and rice flour), its main flavor component is derived from ube, a yam native to the Philippines. At the market, shoppers may mistake the starchy root vegetable for taro; however, its uniqueness lies in the vibrant, eye-catching purple hue that exists within. It is possible some New Yorkers will experience a purple Filipino waffle prepared with canned ube or ube paste extract. According to Thach, it is clear when restaurants use extract because it tastes like a waffle, but purple. Jo’s recipe carefully incorporates fresh ube delivered on site from a local produce company, and the result is their original fresh gluten-free ube waffle mix. When prepared, the waffle is crispy and crunchy on the outside, while maintaining a moist, spongy interior.
The dish includes a popular Filipino palate cleanser, atchara. “Every family has a different recipe,” says Jo, “it comes with everything.” The atchara being served at Baby Skips is comprised of thinly shredded papaya, carrots, raisins, red pepper, ginger, white vinegar and an assortment of pickling spices. The brightness and acidity of the atchara creates a balance from the richness of the other components on the plate. The crunchiness of the papaya and carrots lends a pleasing, fresh textural element.
“The Philippines are a melting pot of cultures—Japanese, Spanish, American; they all influence our national identity,” says Jo. Longanisa is a popular Filipino pork sausage of Spanish origin and is like chorizo. The Baby Skips’s brunch dish includes a side of “Impossible” plant-based protein seasoned with an original spice blend. Because the menu strives to be inclusive to a variety of dietary lifestyles, the longanisa recipe is adapted to be vegan. As a “menu hack” of sorts, patrons often request the longanisa sausage as a side because of its popularity. Longanisa Egg & Waffle is meant to be a complete brunch, so it is served with a sunny-side-up egg and shitake mushrooms sautéed with onions and tamari. While meat eaters and vegetarians alike enjoy the Longanisa Egg & Waffle, it is a vegetarian, gluten-free brunchers’ dream.
The celebration of heritage continues at Baby Skips as Thach and Jo prepare for their Filipino feast on October 26. Traditional cuisine will be prepared and served on large banana leaves upon the large tables on site for participants to enjoy. “Kamayan” is loosely translated to “eat with your hands” in Tagalog. There are no plates, and everything is served communally. Spanish settlers viewed the practice with disdain, and Kamayan-style feasts gave way to Westerners that introduced their own customs to locals. These days, those who hold Filipino heritage dear are part of a resurgence of these festivities after decades of colonial suppression. By curating a unique dining experience, Thach and Jo intimately conclude Filipino-American Heritage Month. Buy tickets for Baby Skips’ Filipino Feast at their Eventbrite page.