Words and Photos by Azam Malik
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that Chef MaMusu’s Africanne on Main never actually opened. Like a few of Richmond’s small and hidden away eateries, the doors always seem closed and the windows betray no life. However, if you were to take a short walk from campus between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any given weekday, be prepared to witness a scene transformed.
In a matter of minutes, the buffet-style restaurant begins to fill with regulars and new comers alike, all looking for the source of the wonderful smells, laughter, and good conversation that filters onto the streets. They stay, however, for the daily changing combinations of the best West African and southern comfort cuisine.
Small and located at the corner of Main and Second streets, Chef MaMusu’s Africanne comes across as simple. The restaurant is centered around a large buffet table with everything else seemingly an accessory to this altar of good food. The tables and chairs aren’t adorned. The walls hold a handful of hand drawn signs and pictures while the windows hold only small flowerpots. A television crowds a corner, playing the news in an unobtrusive, background noise kind of way. So, it is easily apparent that the food takes the highest importance here.
After receiving a quick set of instructions and a plate from the lady at the register [they charge for food by the pound], I made my way over to the buffet table to choose what to eat. What a wealth of options I had. Mixed greens, curry fried rice, red beans and rice, oxtail in cabbage stew, macaroni and cheese, curry fried lake trout, curry chicken, Akra (fried beans cake), sweet fried plantains, sautéed peppers and onions, cornbread, and Zoyekee (African sweet potatoes sautéed with chicken livers, peppers, onions, and herbs and spices) filled out the lineup for the entrees. For dessert, there was a peach cobbler pie and bread pudding. In addition to the food, Chef MaMusu also indulges in making her own beverages, mostly teas and variants of ginger beer. From those I chose a ginger and pineapple concoction.
I ended up going with the curry-fried rice, curry chicken, red beans and rice, sautéed peppers and onions, corn bread and the peach cobbler. The curry fried rice and curry chicken were perfect. The rice had just the right amount of fluff to absorb the curry without becoming soggy and the chicken itself was cooked and seasoned wonderfully. As an interesting aside, the cornbread also seemed to go well with the curry chicken; the sweetness mixed well with the spice and salt. I initially though the red beans and rice to be a little lacking. However after combining them with the sautéed peppers and onions, both dishes appeared to balance out the other. The peach cobbler pie was an absolutely smashing way to end the meal, as the pie was neither too heavy nor too sweet and the addition of cinnamon provided a lovely kick.
All in all, my lunch proved to be a wondrous affair. The mix and balance of American Southern cuisine with the vibrancy and flair that West Africa has to offer makes for a rather colorful and varied meal, an experience that is, in my opinion, well worth a try.
Rating:4 out of 5 Shafer Birds.
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