It's your first visit to Taste of Africa, and chef Isaac Asare greets you with a broad smile. "I will give you some free tastes before you order," he says and returns, some time later, with a tray of carefully arranged samples. There's savory spinach stew, tomato-enriched jollof rice, a nuanced chicken curry, a thimbleful of peanut soup and more. It's hard not to like everything you try -- even the fiery-hot pepper soup.
It's also hard not to be won over by the warmth and hospitality of Asare and his wife, Gloria Yeboah, who serve the food of their native Ghana in what is likely Long Island's only African restaurant. The place makes its home in a former pizzeria; its red checked plastic cloths remain, as does its pizza oven. But if Africa is hard to find in the decor, it comes through in fare as appealing as it is inexpensive.
Be forewarned, though, that Taste of Africa is not for everyone. Chances are, you won't get your food in a timely manner. The menu is hard to decipher. Some dishes come from a steam table while others are made to order. Not everything listed will be available. Best bet: Ask Asare to be your guide. Just know that what you get won't always match what you read on the menu.
Begin with a flaky little meat pie filled with either a savory beef or chicken mixture. One night, a dish called "yam with turkey pepper" features burnished bone-in pieces of smoked turkey -- a few comprising more bone than meat. Still, what's there is delicious. No yam in the house that night, but plantains make a good substitute.
Then, there's amala, an oversized dumpling made with cassava dough, which is meant to be dipped by the spoonful into a spicy pepper soup. Get it with chicken for a combination both comforting and fiery. Or try the dumpling-like rice ball with chicken and a mellow peanut soup.
It's worth negotiating all the bones in a plate of goat meat and turkey, which Asare has put together with spinach plus an okra stew. Then, there's baked tilapia, bone-in cuts of fish with surprising depth of flavor served with fried sweet plantains.
Asare emphasizes that the restaurant also boasts an entirely vegan menu -- and another, separate soul food bill of fare. Clearly, he knows what culinary niches Long Island has long needed filled.