Mike from Yonkers notified our group via email that he wanted to choose a place from his “old stomping ground.” Who knew that Mike from Yonkers’ old stomping ground was the area around 116th Street and Eighth Avenue known as Little Senegal? What we do know is that Mike from Yonkers has some sort of obsession or kinship with African food. In the past, he has directed us to the late, Treichville Treichville Tasting Menu, African American Marayway in the Bronx, and Salimata Eating Guinea Fowl in a Guinean Place in Little Senegal, just around the corner from his most recent pick, Africa Kine. And like 116th being his old stomping ground, this obsession has never been explained.
I never claimed the same area as my old stomping ground, but having lived just a couple of blocks from it, I could have been justified for doing so. I even spent a few months volunteering at the community food bank next door to Africa Kine, just after the economic meltdown of 2008.
I worked at the soup kitchen washing pots and pans, bagging garbage, prepping food, and even shoveling ice and snow so the food trucks could gain entry to the kitchen. I stopped soon after the chef of the kitchen, who caught on that I was a writer, had me read the beginnings of his autobiographical novel and when, local Mormon missionaries began to flood in to help out making the kitchen more populated than one you would find at a four-star restaurant.
Since my work at the food bank, a raucous, busy beer garden, called the Harlem Tavern has opened across the street, along with a meat market that specializes in local, organic beef and where the butchers wear pork pie hats while they work, and a cookie place where the cheapest, albeit, very good and very large cookie, is four dollars.
Those new establishments, among others made parking tough for the group, but Zio and I had no troubles getting to Africa Kine, which was enshrouded in dark netting along with scaffolding in front making it hard to distinguish. On the way in, we passed a legless beggar in a wheelchair and as we entered and started upstairs to the dining area, we both noticed a woman, face down, arms out on a prayer mat.
“Don’t take her picture,” Zio whispered to me. “It would be disrespectful. We don’t want an incident.”
Africa Kine is possibly the most notable Senegalese restaurant in Little Senegal. The dining area is spacious and modern, with high ceilings, comfortable booths, big tables and a number of flat screen televisions, and described in the restaurant’s elaborate website Africa Kine as “luxurious.” Either way, it was most definitely a far cry from what we experienced at either Salimata, Treichville or African American Marayway.
The others joined us soon after at a big table in the back of the “luxurious” dining room. While we sipped spicy homemade ginger beer, we perused what, by now was a familiar menu thanks to the African culinary education bestowed upon us courtesy of Mike from Yonkers. There was guinea fowl, chicken, lamb, goat, fish, grilled or fried, and steak. The entrées all came with a choice of one of an assortment of starches; cous cous, rice, plantains, yam, and a small chopped iceberg salad. Each dish came with onions, sliced, lightly grilled with a mustard-based sauce on them, and scattered over the meat and fish. Most of the entrées also included half a hard boiled egg.
I’m no expert on guinea fowl, but if I recall, the guinea fowl at Salimata was better, or maybe more distinguishable, than what we experienced at Africa Kine. The fish and lamb were also all solid, but there were no raves from our now very picky Senegalese aficionados. So, though the surroundings were comfortable, and yes, bordering on luxurious, the food was not as memorable as many of the more humble African places we have visited.
What there was at Africa Kine, however, was plenty of food; the portions more than generous.
Brian Silverman chronicles cheap eats, congee, cachapas, cow foot, cow brains, bizarre foods, baccala, bad verse, fazool, fish stomach, happy hours, hot peppers, hot pots, pupusas, pastas, rum punch and rotis, among many other things on his site Fried Neck Bones...and Some Home Fries. Twitter: neckbones@fried_neckbones.