Soul-food scholar Adrian Miller is forever dropping urgent knowledge on me, but a recent guided trip to this strip-mall treasure at the edge of Aurora may just take the cake (or pounded yam product, as the case may be).
Though it’s home to a one-man staff by the name of Prince Michael, you’d better believe the name is otherwise adorably inapt—this joint is so not palatial that even “bare bones” is an understatement. The dining room is, in fact, entirely boneless but for 2 flatscreens showing soccer: conference-room furnishings, industrial carpet, white walls.
The menu, however, is as colorful as could possibly be (click to enlarge), featuring-so-soulful-indeed Nigerian specialties supplemented, go figure, by Philly cheesesteaks—
even when the results don’t look it.
Homely as that pepper soup with bone-in goat chunks may be, & as basic as the recipe surely is, the broth was addictively savory, with enough pepper—more black than red of any type, it seemed—to elicit bouts of delighted coughing.
But my entree was both gorgeous & wondrous. Behold amala with fish stew.
Yam being Nigeria’s staple crop, it’s at the center of most meals as rice is in much of East Asia; amala (pictured right) is a yam-flour porridge, darker & stickier than the better-known fufu but still solid enough to use for scooping. The flavor is subtle (some might say nonexistent), but the startling, playful texture is all-important.
As for the stew itself—I’m as speechless as it was eloquent.
From 1 of 4 bases—okra, spinach, a leaf similar to spinach called ewedu, & the unspecified beans called gbegiri—I chose the latter, & their incorporation as a smooth, earthy puree into a combination of tomatoes, herbs & nutty-flavored palm oil resulted in sensations of such layered depth…I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, especially as it began to mingle with flaked bits of the unexpectedly rich, skin-on fish filet (Adrian claimed it was tilapia—if so, perhaps it’s an unusually flavorful subspecies I’m unfamiliar with).
Spread out in a pool of palm oil, the spinach-&-melon seed mélange beneath Adrian’s goat was nearly its expressive equal, reminding me of similar dishes I’d had at the sadly defunct Hessini Roots; the fufu it came with, which is simply labeled “pounded yam,” is a bit more cleanly doughy than amala.
Finally, the jollof rice that came on Rebecca (From Argentina with Love) Caro’s plate of fish & plantains was terrifically evocative too; clearly there was a touch of tomato in there, though I couldn’t put my finger on the spices, & Prince Michael wasn’t telling.
If you hit this joint—& I urge you to do so, like, now—keep in mind that the solo show isn’t a speedy one. Patience will be rewarded with one hell of a marvelous performance.