Restaurant blog post #1: Zoewee’s (Charlotte, NC)

I’m going to try something new. I have a longstanding interest in “ethnic” food, specifically Asian, African and Latin American food, so I might as well use this blog to write about some of the restaurants I’ve visited.

Last week I had lunch at Zoewee’s, a Liberian restaurant in NoDa about halfway between downtown and University City. I’ve been very curious about West African food ever since reading Things Fall Apart in high school, but have rarely gotten the chance to try it. Ethiopian food is easy to find in major American cities, but other African cuisines are far less so.* Liberian food seems particularly obscure, even though there is a fairly large Liberian-American community. The best source on Liberian cuisine I’ve found is this series of blog posts by some missionaries in Liberia.

So anyway, to my surprise, there are two Liberian restaurants right next door to each other in NoDa. I had already ordered delivery from one of them, Zanzibar Café, but I wasn’t that impressed; I found the food to be too spicy, even though I have a high spice tolerance by white American standards. So I decided to try the other.

Zoewee’s is in a small strip mall next to several other African businesses, and has almost no decoration besides a mask hanging on the wall behind the cash register. It was somewhat difficult to get the attention of the staff when I came in (another patron had to knock on the door to the employee area), but other than that the service was fine. I was tempted to order fufu, since I’ve always wondered what that tastes like, but instead I ordered potato greens in red palm oil, which appear to be their specialty. It looked like this:

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 8.24.12 PM.png

Not pictured is the giant plate of white rice that accompanied it.

Overall I was very impressed. It tasted nothing like potatoes. It had a consistency similar to Indian saag, and a flavor profile that didn’t resemble anything else in particular. I assume the active ingredient is the palm oil, which is unfortunately very high in saturated fat; otherwise this dish seems quite healthy. The meat was extremely tender and there was a good amount of it. Unlike the dish I ordered from Zanzibar, this one was not spicy at all. However, it was accompanied by a container of some kind of hot pepper relish (visible at the upper right of the photo), and this was so spicy I could barely eat it. The rice seemed unusually large and fluffy and was a good accompaniment to the entree.

I ate this by putting portions of it on top of the rice. I ate with a fork at first, but switched to a spoon after watching another customer. There was easily enough left over for dinner that night.

Overall, I was highly impressed and would definitely go back. The menu is somewhat limited but includes other dishes like fried fish and jollof rice and the aforementioned fufu, and they have weekly specials.

* As one of my Facebook friends suggested when I pointed this out, this may be due to culinary racism. For some reason, Ethiopian restaurants are “trendy,” whereas Caribbean and West African restaurants seem to appeal more to African and African-American diners, and therefore don’t get reviewed in general-interest publications or on Yelp. (Zoewee’s currently has 14 Yelp reviews, while the other nearby Liberian restaurant, Zanzibar Café, has only 5.)

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