This week I made it to the restaurant that was to be the subject of the first blog post but it was closed that weekend and so many months later I finally made it to Zoewee’s.
To say the outside is unremarkable would be giving it too much credit. It sits off N. Tryon in Charlotte at the back of a parking lot among a group of buildings that are all past their prime. When I got there just before noon two of the employees were waiting outside to be let in as well. I thought that meant I’d be sitting for a while before they actually opened but they hit the open sign at 12:01.
The interior was basic restaurant décor with that minimalist feel. The man who let me in was friendly and told me it would be just a few minutes while they finished opening. The short conversation let me know he was not originally from the US so my hope for authentic Liberian cuisine was bolstered.
After just a couple of minutes a nice young lady brought me the menu. The menu is basically a list of daily specials and there are 4-6 dishes per day on the list. I was torn between the potato leaves and cassava leaves both with rice. I went with the cassava leaves since I didn’t even know what a cassava was. The waitress looked at me funny and asked if I had ever had African food before and I said a bit but was there something she thought I needed to know. She said no but still had a skeptical look on her face as she walked away. When she strolled up with a plate and a bowl, one with the rice and one with the cassava leaves, I suspected I was going to get my money’s worth. OK, I was thinking the same thing you probably are seeing the pictures below, “That doesn’t look all that appetizing” or something more scatological, however just stay with me here. My attitude adjusted quickly.
As she was placing the food she pointed to the small plastic container in the upper right of the pictures and said it would “add spiciness” to the dish if I wanted it. I think this may have been why she asked if I had African food before to see if this should be a side item or not. Well of course I needed to know what “spiciness” was so I got a little on the tine of a fork and tasted it. Hey now! That had a bit of heat since it was essentially hot pepper paste. I did wind up adding most of it to the cassava leaves but that first undiluted taste was a sinus clearer.
I thought I might be eating a meat free lunch but as you can see in the second picture there was chicken liberally interspersed in the cassava and oil. At this point I still didn’t know what a cassava leaf looked like in the wild because these were just short of pureed and liberally doused in what I’m going to assume was palm oil as I’ve since learned that is the traditional oil. So based on what I had to work with I used the cassava leaf mixture as a gravy on the rice and dug in.
It was so much better than it looked. It had a very earthy taste and the rice helped cut the oil and the chicken flavor was very noticeable. The peppers brought it up another notch and improved the flavor even more. This was not haute cuisine but it tasted good and was filling. As suspected there was too much for me to finish so I brought some home for later which is another sign I liked it since I don’t often do leftovers.
Overall I’d say this is not a place to book your fancy party but if you want to try some interesting west African food, with a limited menu you can feel free to ask about, served by what I found to be a friendly staff this is a good option.
They don’t have a website but you can find the address searching on Google or Bing. One thing some of the websites indicate they open at 11:00 but that’s not correct it’s 12:00 on Saturday.
Check out Tell Me More for a recipe for Liberian greens & rice, music & more.