City gets taste of Ghanaian fare.
COLUMN: DINING REVIEW
In Worcester you can't step any closer to sub-Saharan Africa, without being on Pangaea, than on a visit to Anokye Krom. Africa's where all humanity began, so it was exciting to navigate outer Millbury Street to reclaim deep roots with home cookin'.
The area's growing African, particularly Ghanaian, community has a home here. Anokye Krom is part restaurant, part tavern and part club. I felt welcome with the first upbeat reggae bass tone upon swinging open the door.
Parking is no picnic, and you might get blocked in at this tiny plaza a couple narrow lanes and a Jersey barrier away from the Route 146 raceway. Inside we found deep red decor including linen tablecloths and a couple of tables of adults in vigorous discussion. As the Saturday evening progressed, more diners including families came in, as Real Madrid soccer (one flat-screen, either end) was overmatched as a distraction.
The menu is simple in its finite choices but took some explanation. Our server patiently provided what we needed to know.
Fried chicken, a $5 appetizer, was clear enough. But we chose goat soup ($10) and fried fish ($5) for a threesome's starters. Tilapia soup ("May add okra") was the other $10 option. Our goat broth was tongue-hugging spicy, its cayenne flavor combining with, rather than infusing, the large, spoon-cuttable chunks of tender goat. Baaa-humbug you say? So did one of my goat-hugging accomplices, but that still left two thumbs up.
The croaker fish used here is not prime material, but picking through the bones with hands to later be cleansed in a table-side water bowl, we would encounter a mild tomato/pepper and a no-so-mild black pepper/spice/shrimp dipping sauce. We're talking deep-fried material, a little too browned and greasy but tender enough inside. The same two sauces and fry techniques would appear with the Banku and turkey tails I ordered for dinner.
There were plenty of turkey tails in the dish and, despite their fatty quality, there was more meat to be had than with the fish appetizer. I ran amok through that exotic "delicacy," although I was no match for the Banku, explained on the menu as "corn meal balled up."
It's a big ball of a traditional staple starch. But as with Hawaiian poi - which ought to be called "why?" - its bulk speaks louder than its flavor. Banku looks and feels to the fork like the Pillsbury Doughboy's overweight aunt. There's only a hint of cornmeal's grit; it's mixed with cassava. It may play well off a spicy dish, however, as white rice does with red-pepper Chinese menu entrees.
The vegetable accompaniment with our meals was shredded cabbage, again flavorful when dabbing into the sauces. The cabbage appeared under a yogurt-tomato topping with an accomplice's Jollof Rice. Although she didn't like that yogurt topping, she did like the rice.
It is a tomato-sauce rice mixture, served here a little drier and spicier than Spanish rice. There was a mound of it, and her choice of chicken (vs. available meat or fish) meant a couple drumsticks of decent size and that familiar deep-fried coating. Despite being full, I still had an appetite to try more than a bite of the rice.
My other accomplice was agog over his Waakye, a rice/beans mash-up with beef stew meat that wasn't as succulent as our cute little goat. "It's gonna get me through the first cold winter night!" he said, as it was that very night. This comfort dish also carried a spicy tomato sauce, but not overly so. A side serving of spicy black pepper sauce was something you could tune to your own taste.
Several of the other entrees involve all or some of the following: fried yams, grilled tilapia, plantains and black-eye beans. Eleven of the 12 are $11.50, with the $15 exception being the yam-tilapia with a spicy ginger hot sauce. Fufu at Anokye Kron is pounded cassava with plantain or cocoyam, an edible underground stem. It's available as an entree or in the $5 appetizer size - or as a weekend special in the form of Fufu and Goat Soup.
Weekend specials are divided by day, and a Sunday offering of interest is Omotuo Special with either peanut butter or palm nut soup along with a choice of meat or fish, greens and beans.
The wine kept on reserve was mini-bottles of merlot, evidently not a big category here. Somehow, they were out of African beer and out of an African soft drink described as a "cotton candy" flavor called Muscatella. I tried a Malta Guinness, a wheaty and sometimes-sweet tasting beverage, better sipped than slugged down even on a hot day, I'd imagine.
Anokye is a legendary Ashanti warrior and Krom means his village in the Ghanaian Twi language, management tells us. It's not a language most of us run across every day, and Anokye's village outpost on Millbury Street is no everyday experience, either. But it's a welcome eye-opener in Worcester's cultural and culinary mix.
687 Millbury St., Worcester
Phone: (508) 753-8471
Hours: Noon to 11 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; noon to midnight Fridays through Sundays.
Parking: Small outside lot and on adjoining streets
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard
Prices: Inexpensive, entrees $11.50, with one $15 exception
Pluses: Like reggae? Enter a clean, open space in the city's African community and try some different ethnic dining. Service fine amid the bustle. Some spicy, savory selections.
Minuses: Out of African beer! Out of takeout menus. Can't rave about "corn meal balled up," fermented or otherwise, meat cuts of variable quality - but you know what you're ordering. Parking is a minor disaster.
About the Stars
Perfection: * * * *
Very Good: * * *
Good: * *
Below Par: *
Serious Flaws: No stars
Restaurant reviews are the opinions of reviewers based upon at least one visit to the restaurant. The reviewer is accompanied by at least one companion. Recommendations from readers about restaurants they would like to have reviewed are welcome.