Restaurant Review: A New Voice in Soul Food Rises on Staten Island

“Do you trust me?” the chef asked.

It was late, going on 10 p.m. The kitchen of Shaw-naé’s House, a six-table restaurant on Staten Island, had been slammed all night and was running low on a few things. Actually, a lot of things, including almost everything I’d just tried to order.

But then Shaw-naé Dixon, the owner and chef, entered the dining room with a proposal. She offered to put together “a smorgasbord” of odds and ends, full portions where she had them, little tastes where she didn’t. She promised it would be enough to feed my two friends and me. She’d come up with a fair price later, if I promised to trust her.

Trust her? This was Shaw-naé’s House. I was speaking to Shaw-naé herself. We were hungry. She had all the food. Who else was I going to trust?

As I’d soon learn, I’d been in Ms. Dixon’s hands the minute I’d walked through the door. In many restaurants these days, it can be hard to tell who owns the place. At Shaw-naé’s House, it’s not hard. She’s the one in the apron who wears black braids swept up above her head and wrapped around and around like a turban. The one in the cooking videos playing on big screens that hang high on the walls. The one who, on her breaks from cooking, walks from table to table, saying hello to everybody, inspecting their plates to see how their appetites are holding up, asking about their health.

For Shaw-naé Dixon, the chef and owner, a regular is anyone who has been in more than once.Credit…Colin Clark for The New York Times
Chicken wings can be ordered with Sugar Daddy sauce, a cinnamon-scented syrup.Credit…Colin Clark for The New York Times

When she’s in the room, the word “love” gets batted back and forth often. Regulars get a kiss if they’re seated, a hug and a kiss if they’re standing up. In Ms. Dixon’s book, a regular is anybody who’s been in more than once.

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