At the corner of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn sits a small bakery renowned for an unusual dessert with a sacred history. Abu’s Homestyle Bakery is a modest storefront in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant that specializes in the navy bean pie, the traditional staple of the Nation of Islam. “When I get the bean pie craving, I come here,” said Akhenaton Mashariki, a 41-year-old music producer. “No one makes it like this.”
Abu’s also sells cookies, bread and cakes, but the bean pie is king. Glass cases are neatly lined with the pies, which come in many sizes, from a three-inch snack portion ($2) to the family-size nine-inch ($16). Colorful, oversize paintings of the pie hang near the register. “Our signature product,” Abu’s menu boasts, “will blow you away.”
For customers, the pie is as much about history as it is about flavor. In the 1930s, the Nation of Islam founder, Elijah Muhammad, urged his followers to eat this particular bean. “Allah says that the little navy bean will make you live,” he wrote, “just eat them.” The navy bean pie became a street-corner staple, sold by bow-tied emissaries along with the group’s newspaper.
Masjid At-Taqwa, a popular mosque just steps away from Abu’s, was founded by former members of the Nation who left in the 1980s to practice a more traditional brand of Islam. A member of the congregation, Idris Conry, opened his shop here in 2001. Mr. Conry’s eldest son, Idris Braithwaite, took over the business in 2011.
Mr. Braithwaite makes the pie exactly the way his father did. Beans are cooked and mashed to a pulp in the back of the store. Crusts are rolled out by hand, ladled full and topped with a spiced mix. Everything is baked on-site.
Though Mr. Braithwaite divulges few trade secrets, he did share one piece of advice for aspiring bakers: don’t let your layers mix together. He broke open one small pie, dropped half into his mouth and pointed at a clean line with his finger. “You have to keep them separate,” Mr. Braithwaite said between bites.
On a recent evening, a crowd of men in long white gowns and caps strolled past the doorway. The call to prayer sounded from the mosque’s loudspeaker, echoing down the block. One man with a long beard, colored orange with henna, pulled away from the group. He picked out a bean pie, placed two wrinkled dollar bills on the counter, and rejoined the group outside.
“They have one of the original Nation of Islam pies,” said Saladin Sharif, a 44-year-old electrician shopping with his three stepchildren. “You can’t eat it breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said, shifting his eyes to the kids. “But it’s a healthy snack.”
A clique of teenagers hovered nearby and contemplated their purchase. Alexander Verdieu bought a bean pie. He peeled back the wrapping and carved out a bite with a plastic fork. “Wow,” he said. “It’s a mellow sweet.”
Yusuf Ali, a 67-year-old retired chef from Brooklyn stepped inside. “Assalamu alaikum,” he called, raising his hand. Mr. Ali made a purchase and gave his own analysis: “It hits the right flavor palate.”
Osman Adam, the gray-haired assistant imam of the mosque, surveyed the pastries. “I don’t usually eat sweets,” Mr. Adam confided. “But sometimes you have to make an exception.”