The owner of the new Nigerian restaurant Afrika Taste & Lounge invites everyone to “try a new thing”
SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio – Martinas Nwangwu grew up in Nigeria and spent a lot of time working in his mother’s restaurant. When the 26-year-old came to Cleveland to study at Cleveland State University, he discovered that there were Ethiopian and Malian restaurants here, but neither served the Nigerian dishes prepared by the restaurant in his mother.
The enterprising young man filled this gap by opening Afrika Taste & Lounge in South Euclid. Thanks to the efforts of Nwangwu and his younger sister and chef, Lilian, adventurous diners will have the opportunity to sample Nigerian cuisine. This fare includes entrees such as atkie (grated cassava with fried red snapper and plantains, topped with cucumbers, onions and pepper sauce); egusi (mashed melon seeds simmered with spinach, assorted meats and spices); fried red snapper; pepper soup (actually, a Liberian favorite); and jollof rice (long grain rice mixed with spices, simmered in tomato broth and served with chicken).
Starters include asun (spicy goat meat), plantains, pepper snail, and shawarma (seasoned chicken breast and sausage mixed with a mixture of vegetables and rolled in a tortilla).
“Spicy,” Nwangwu replied, when asked about the difference between Nigerian food and American food. “American cuisine is not very spicy. It’s going to taste different.
Nwangwu began planning his restaurant in 2019, but those plans have been delayed by his time on assignment as a U.S. Army Reservist and the pandemic. He was finally able to open Afrika on October 23 at 4483 Mayfield Road, just east of South Green Road. He worked to shine the surroundings of what was a vacant storefront, the former home of the Mirage Party Center, which closed when COVID hit the area and never reopened. The dining room features new floors and freshly painted walls adorned with large portraits of popular African music artists.
With a bachelor’s degree in hand and plans to pursue a master’s degree, Nwangwu, who speaks six languages (English, Nigeria’s first language, French and four African dialects), initially planned to settle in Atlanta. . He then chose Cleveland as his home for an unusual reason.
“The way I do things, when I hear a lot of bad things about a place, I end up going there,” he said. “When I was in Nigeria I heard a lot about Cleveland and my friends told me there were a lot of shootings and it was very difficult and it was cold. I was like, ‘Let me test this. Let me try. ‘”
While last winter in Cleveland was rather mild, Nwangwu said it wasn’t mild for him, coming from a country where winter means more rain, but still warm temperatures. “I had to adapt,” he says.
Nwangwu has come to love the choice he made when settling in Cleveland and hopes with his restaurant to develop his cultural richness.
“When I got to Cleveland, people were saying there was no Nigerian restaurant in Cleveland,” he said. “Cleveland is a great place. It’s a land of beauty, but when you don’t have great places to eat and hang out with friends and family, the city seems like a boring city. I thought about opening this up for people to get to know about African culture. They don’t teach in school, in other countries, about Africa, about African culture. Africa is very large. There are a lot of beautiful things in Africa.
Afrika Taste & Lounge includes a stage on which Nwangwu plans to host live music soon. It also has, as its name suggests, a lounge for those who wish to stop for a cocktail.
Closed on Mondays, the company is open from noon to 1 am from Tuesday to Thursday; from noon to 2 am on Fridays and Saturdays; and from 11 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. Nwangwu said dinner is served until 7 or 8 p.m. each day, after which the lounge remains open. Take out food is available by calling 216-331-5054.
“We are open to accepting anyone, anyone,” Nwangwu said in conclusion. “Come and try the food. Come and try the cocktails. I just want everyone to come out and try a new thing.
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