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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Scoutmob Excursion: Tour of West Africa at Ike's Cafe & Grill (Norcross)

Toddler Foodie Rating:  3 out of 5 Gummy Bears.  Best for adventurous foodies.

:) = Spacious restaurant in a location with ample parking.  African décor that little ones will find fascinating and energetic African music that everyone can bob their heads to.  Eclectic menu featuring authentic fare from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Liberia, and Togo - this is a true dining experience for anyone who is unfamiliar with African cuisine.  High chairs available.  Large outdoor patio.

:( =  If you've never had West African cuisine before, you may feel lost as you peruse the menu; and you will rely heavily on your server to help you figure out what to order.  Unfortunately, we didn't have a very helpful server when we visited, so Mommy and Daddy used Scoutmob's suggestions and their own instincts to decide what we should eat.  As a result, most of the food we ordered was really spicy - too spicy for us - so we toddlers ended up having to eat a second dinner at home. 

Notes:  If you decide to be adventurous and eat here, we recommend doing a little research in advance and asking for a server who will help guide you through the menu.  Also, Scoutmob has a deal available for Ike's right now - get it if you're looking for a thrilling West African eating adventure!

2-year-old Toddler Foodie on Grilled Fish & Yams:  "I wonder if I can eat just a tiny bit of this tail..."
This week we tried food from Central America (see our review of the Nicaraguan restaurant, Sabores de Mi Tierra) and East Asia (see our review of Ah-Ma's Taiwanese Kitchen).   To close out our intercontinental tour, we decided to try West African cuisine at Ike's Café & Grill.  Before visiting, we took a peek at our favorite interactive world map to get a better idea of the region from which our meal originated.  West Africa is comprised of 18 countries, 6 of which are highlighted in Ike's extensive menu.  An opportunity to explore 6 countries' food in one visit?  No way!  We could hardly contain our excitement. 

We arrived at Ike's for an early supper and found it was already bustling.  The hostess was an extremely warm and friendly young lady who greeted us as if we were regulars.  She led us to a booth and brought us a high chair.  Our server was a different story.  She didn't seem half as excited to be there as we were and was quite unenthusiastic about helping us figure out what to order.  That left us feeling really lost as we explored the huge menu filled with dishes we'd never heard of.  Fortunately, Ike's menu is very descriptive and includes flag symbols to indicate each dish's country of origin.  Using Scoutmob and Mommy's ever-adventurous gut instinct as a guide, we ended up ordering Peppered Snails (large black snails sautéed with onions and hot peppers), Ike's special Beef Suya (sliced grilled beef served with a dry chili powder mixture and raw onion slices), Grilled Fish and Yam (whole grilled tilapia topped with a bell pepper and onion mixture and served with fried yam slices), and Emotuo (Ghanian groundnut stew served with whole chicken cutlets and a huge ball of soft rice). 

Left:  Peppered Snails; Right:  Beef Suya
Photo taken by 3-year-old Toddler Foodie.
It felt like food started to arrive at our table in droves, and we were all a bit overwhelmed.  Since all the food looked quite red, Mommy tried every dish before we did.  She found that, unfortunately, she had not done a good job of picking out dishes that were not too spicy for our little tongues and tummies.  The peppered snails were too spicy for us to even try.  They were even too spicy for Daddy!  Mommy, who likes spicy food, ate them and said the flavor of the sauce was good, but the snails were a little too large, tough, and muddy-tasting.  We did appreciate the fact that the snails were served in a cute little hippopotamus-shaped dish, though.  

"While I'm really intrigued by this little hippo full of snails, Mommy said it's too spicy for me to eat.  So I'll stick with these grilled beef slices." 

We were able to eat the beef suya, grilled fish and yams, and the chicken from the emotuo.  We enjoyed using little toothpicks to eat the beef suya like tiny meat lollipops.  The sauce on the grilled fish was really spicy; but Daddy was able to scrape the meat inside the fish and let us try it.  As long as we didn't eat the outer skin of the fish, we were golden - and we all really enjoyed the smoky flavor and juiciness of the tilapia's flaky, delicate flesh.  We also loved the fried yams.  They were like huge, semi-sweet French fries.  Just watch out for the super spicy ground pepper and onion sauce served on the side! 

"This looks nothing like the lollipops I get at the barber shop."
As for the Emotuo, the stew base was a little too spicy for us, but Mommy was able to cut bits of chicken off for us to enjoy.  The chicken was really tender and flavorful.  Mommy said the stew reminded her of a spicy version of a Filipino dish called menudo.  Isn't it neat how food from regions so far from one another can share similarities (recall how, two posts ago, we tried Nicaraguan pinolillo and thought it tasted like an Ethiopian besso shake)? 

On that note, we'll go ahead and close this week's intercontinental tour with some final thoughts on Ike's.  It probably isn't the best place to visit if you and/or your little ones are selective eaters.  But, for those whose palates can handle spicy, exotic flavors, it's a grand adventure that offers a rare (at least, rare in the Atlanta area) glimpse into many different countries' cuisine.  Even though we felt a little disoriented while we were there due to lack of knowledge about West African food, we're really happy we gave it a try.  At the end of our journey, we knew a little more, felt a little fuller, and even found commonality between West Africa's food culture and our own food culture, reminding us that in some ways, the world is much smaller than we think it is.

Until next time, friends, happy eating and exploring! 

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