This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy did not.
This little piggy had roast beef.
This little piggy had none.
This little piggy went to an African restaurant on the South Side of Chicago with some friends and got stuffed — and no one got shot much to everyone’s chagrin.
The next time someone screams and runs around in circles flailing his or her arms in protest of me going to a restaurant on the South Side to get some culinary satisfaction, this little piggy will clap the individual across the cheek. An adventurous restaurant friend and I, joined by a third individual who appreciates trying something other than McDonald’s, found ourselves at Yassa African Restaurant at 716 West 79th Street in Chicago’s North Chatham neighbourhood. Usually the South Side is known for the vast array of soul food cafés, catfish shacks, and rib joints. Now my people are popping up on the scene and satisfaction has resumed it’s place in my vocabulary.
Unlike some restaurants where you may get a side of attitude with your entrée, Yassa was worth saying that we’d return just from walking through the doors and having the owner say, “Make yourself at home. Have a seat anywhere you’d like.” And he didn’t say it with disdain. The hostess who came to the table greeted us in French and complete with a smile. My people. Apparently appreciative of good music, there was a three-piece jazz band playing live music in the background. No disc jockey scratching some records. No get-down boogie mama dancing with swivel hips. No lyrics inducing facial expressions of concern. It was all good.
What Yassa lacks in aesthetics, it makes it up in spades in the food. We ordered fataya and nem. The fataya were four rather large empanadas — pastries filled with fish and West African spices. Those lovelies would make great snacks for lazy moments at home. The nem were like egg rolls, but stuffed with fish and other spices. This is another item that I will probably order every time I go back to Yassa.
My friends and I have a saying that if the appetizers are good, then we know the entrées are certainly going to be good. Well, we were correct and we were wrong in this instance. The appetizers were big hits, but the entrées were not just merely good. They were worthy of licking the plates. Let me just say that the large portions that Yassa serves up to customers are not for the faint of heart. I repeat, the large portions are not for individuals who waste food. We ordered a whole grilled tilapia that came with a week’s supply of the best plantains — aloco — outside of Africa and the West Indies. The fish was so large that it hung off the plate and it was so tasty. The plantains were so good that you would have thought we were land sharks the way we devoured everything except the bones. We ordered dibi lamb, which were grilled lamb chops served with spicy squash and couscous. We ate it all and even got cultural. Forks? Knives? Eating good food like that without using your fingers is insulting. We picked up the meat and dealt with it like men who appreciate good food. Well, that was not enough. We had brochette chicken, which is chicken, peppers, and onions done up shish kabob style and served with atieke and spicy squash. The atieke was yucca prepared like couscous. To wash all of these good eats down, we had sorrel juice and ginger juice. Just thinking about the juice now makes me want to get on the bus and go back right this moment. My people.
I should have mentioned that the plates were the size of party platters. I didn’t think it was possible to serve that amount of food and still stay in business. Then again, seeing how many customers were coming in and out, it then became apparent that as long as the restaurant serves up great food and outstanding service, they could care less about the overwhelming portions. I know that’s a high selling point for me. My people.
One dessert common in Senegal is thiakry and we ordered that after dinner. Thiakry is curdled milk with millet. Think yogurt, but with a dash of Africa thrown in for extra taste. I’ll take it. Given all the food that we had devoured, this was a hearty enough drink to please the tummy while not being stuffed more than what we were already.
For all of the food, juice, and dessert that we ordered, how much do you think we paid? How much do you think we should have paid? When we looked at the tab, we wondered if the waitress had forgotten something. The price is incredibly inexpensive, especially when you take into consideration the large portions of food that you receive. Then again, it’s not the price that matters as much as the satisfaction that you get. The faces of the customers and the silence of my growling belly were true indications of how great Yassa African Restaurant is. We went. We ate. We three little piggies exhaled all the way home. And we’ve already made plans to go back, even if it is the only restaurant on the South Side that will give my business to. Am I wrong for that? My belly says, “No.” My people.