A Brooklyn foraging restaurant pioneer continues to defy norms

Venison sweet breads tempura served in a red deer skull cavity at Honey Badger. | Credit: Honey Badger

Honey Badger is not a restaurant. At least not according to co-owners Fjölla Sheholli and Junayd Juman. “I don’t like to call it a restaurant,” says Juman, fresh off a mushroom foraging trip in upstate New York. “You’re coming to my house for a dinner party, you’re sitting down in the dining room. We share stories and adventures, and discuss where the food is from and the people we work with.”

In the traditional sense, the duo’s Brooklyn spot, Honey Badger, is very much a restaurant—tables are reservable and you are wined and dined with a 10-14 course tasting menu (and pay $250 a pop for the experience). 

But Honey Badger, which has served meals in its intimate Prospect Lefferts Garden space since 2017, stands out for its “wild to table” plates. Foraged bounty turns into dishes such as deep-fried chicken of the woods mushroom with blue algae aioli, fermented okra seeds and ramp shoots, plus cultured sheep cream; a tart with shaved cured bison, smoked water buffalo cream, and koginut (squash) miso; or Atlantic slipper snails with shad roe bottarga and black trumpet mousse. 

Ugly delicious

Honey Badger’s Atlantic slipper snails with mushrooms on brioche. | Credit: Honey Badger

Honey Badger’s nightly menu is always a secret and brims with unique dishes and ingredients. No meal at the inventive spot is exactly the same. “Usually, everyone is trying to satisfy the customer with steak and potatoes. That’s great, but it’s not sustainable,” Juman says. Searching for identically sized beets or replicating a certain dish for extreme consistency isn’t sustainable, according to the co-owners. Or true to the spirit of the wild-to-table cuisine the duo is so dedicated to serving.  

“We don’t have four seasons, we have [daily] seasons, based on what’s happening in nature,” Sheholli adds. “Everything we cook is foraged from us or sourced by our friends.” Wild fish, hunted meat, local honey, and more supplement Honey Badger’s ingredient list, which is as unpredictable as the weather.  

Juman is inspired by so-called “ugly produce,” or fruits and vegetables that are often neglected because of minor blemishes. He’s got a penchant for underutilized ingredients (cod liver, for example) to maintain a low carbon footprint. “Food waste is a lack of imagination,” he says. 

On days off, Juman and Sheholli go foraging north of the city, often to Maine or Massachusetts. On work days, they’ll drive two hours out just to see what’s growing and thriving before service starts. With mushrooms now in season, they’re eying the local fungus for favorites such as beefsteak mushrooms, which can be served like wagyu, and lobster of the woods, a vegan substitute for lobster popular at the restaurant. Sheholli and Juman explore the forest like they would a city. A forest’s ecosystem, rich with plants, trees, fungi, insects, and animals, reflects many special, symbiotic relationships to the couple.

Wild, wild world

Tuile covered in sugar kelp dust, filled with blue crab, blue-green algae aioli, and red pine cone glaze at Honey Badger. | Credit: Honey Badger

“We are wilderness people,” Juman asserts. Which begs the question: Why serve food in a major metropolis instead of a hand-crafted cabin in the woods?

“We’re in a mega city of learning and cultural exchange,” Juman says, describing the significance of Honey Badger’s urban setting. The restaurant’s accessibility makes it a prime spot for education and awareness. Diners can engage in in-depth chats with their servers and chefs about where the ingredients on their plates were sourced and how they were harvested.

A tasting menu was the only way the Honey Badger team felt they could encourage people to try new things. In an a la carte system, diners would more likely gravitate towards familiar items, such as handmade pasta versus charred eel with berries.

Honey Badger’s Brooklyn backdrop, also dubbed Little Caribbean, has historically lacked fine-dining institutions or places for celebrations, according to Juman, who hails from Trinidad. He was proud to debut a special occasion-worthy space in his longtime community.

“We’re not just cooking food, we’re making friends,” he says. “It’s an honor that people choose to dine with us.” 

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk

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