By Thomas C. Pavlik, Jr.
I love exploring new cuisines. That’s not always easy in Springfield, where many menus look the same. Kingsway African & Caribbean Cuisine’s menu is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Springfield. And that’s a good thing.
It’s hard to explain Kingsway – for example, how can a restaurant that offers cow feet survive in Springfield? What were the owners thinking? Whatever the answer, I’m glad they took the gamble.
It might seem incongruous for a place like Kingsway to open in a strip mall on Ginger Creek Dr., but the space works. It’s bright, open and airy with decorations appropriate to its name. There’s even a small sitting area near the front if you want to socialize before or after your meal. The music seemed authentic to the cuisines represented and was not too loud. On the negative side, cloth napkins, or even upscale paper napkins, would have been a nice touch compared to the paper towels that were used to wrap our dining utensils.
Our fellow diners represented a cross-section of Springfield. Only about four or five of the approximately dozen tables were taken. Our server explained that Kingsway does a better dinner service, but that lunch was steadily increasing. If that’s the case, Kingsway should explore lunch options other than the daily special.
The menu at Kingsway is broken into African and Caribbean sections. Our server was happy to answer questions. And we had many questions – from dish descriptions to levels of spice. Pictures and generic descriptions on the menu helped, but this was new territory for all of us.
For starters we opted for the giz-dodo (fried chicken gizzards and plantains sautéed with onions and green peppers in a tomato sauce – $7.99). This was the universal favorite among my guests. It’s hard to explain the taste, but it was earthy and not too spicy. Other appetizers included goat pepper soup ($8.99) and meat pie (seasoned ground beef cooked with diced potatoes and carrots – $1.99).
For our entrées, one of my guests opted for the $6.99 lunch special which consisted of jollof rice with plantains and a chicken thigh. Jollof rice is a type of African dish served with onions, peppers and spices – think jasmine rice. Although in terms of volume the dish approximated the larger dinner items, the amount of protein was more in order with a lunch dish. It was reported as non-threatening yet flavorful – basically the perfect introduction to these cuisines.
The jerk chicken (served with brown rice and beans – $11.99), ordered by my other guest, consisted of a generous helping of tender-looking (wait for it) jerk chicken. He asked for the mild version yet it still packed plenty of favor. Given that he can be a bit of a difficult diner, I knew it was a good dish when he commented that he’d order it again. We all concurred.
I decided on the designer stew (white rice, green peppers, green tomatoes, habaneros, onion and “assorted diced meat – $11.99). It was advertised as spicy but I found it to be quite mild. This dish was hard to describe – it had a flavor profile I was completely unfamiliar with and that I found somewhat off-putting. Maybe I should have gone with the cow feet in palm oil and exotic African spice ($13.99). I’ll try it next time.
Just for kicks we ordered a side of fufu ($3.00). Fufu is pounded yam, semolina and assorted other items and approximates mashed potatoes, but with a mouth-feel mimicking wallpaper paste. It wasn’t objectionable, but it would take some getting used to. Our server brought us a sauce to add some flavor, but we all concluded that the jerk sauce did the job much better.
The volume of food was enough that we had a fourth guest join us for lunch after we had ordered. Even though we did not increase the order, there was plenty of food for our additional friend.
Kingsway offers several Jamaican sodas that manage to be both sweet and tangy at the same time. I found it to be incredibly refreshing but not all agreed.
Service was quite slow, and our experience would have been too long for a traditional business lunch. In addition, our giz-dodo appeared simultaneously with our entrées and without small plates – making it difficult for the group to share the dish as an appetizer.
My guests and I all commented that we would come back. And that’s the praise that’s most meaningful to a restaurant. With such unique cuisines, not all dishes will please every palate. But we applaud Kingsway for its boldness. Well done.
Thomas C. Pavlik is an attorney with Delano Law Offices, LLC. He can be reached at email@example.com.