Charlotte today holds a rich array of African-rooted food traditions. February is Black History Month, a fine time to explore. Here are five different tastes that suggest the many strands in Charlotte’s black experience.
(1) House of Prayer cafeteria
Start close to home with church food at a United House of Prayer for All People. The denomination’s Charlotte history runs back to a summer-long 1926 tent revival by founder Charles Manuel “Daddy” Grace. The UHOP cafeteria, near Panthers Stadium, offers grilled or fried chicken, country steak in gravy, pinto beans; coconut pie for dessert. No need to wait til Sunday. It’s open to everyone seven days a week.
United House of Prayer cafeteria. 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. 1019 S. Mint St., Charlotte. 704-377-1835.
(2) Mert’s Heart & Soul
James Bazelle cooks signature dishes of the coastal South (from South Carolina to Louisiana). Majority-black historically, the region is known for strong African American influence on cuisine. Order Mert’s red beans and rice, shrimp creole or fried chicken. Don’t miss the collard greens, nor especially the buttery cornbread – some of the best you’ll ever taste.
Mert’s Heart & Soul. 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday. 214 N. College St. 704-342-4222.
(3) Mama’s Caribbean Grill & Bar
Owner Vinroy Reid, and his mother Hazelyn Mills back in the kitchen, bring authentic flavors from their native Jamaica. Whether you get spicy jerk chicken in rich brown sauce or a milder curry or stew, you’ll see rice and beans on the side. Historians believe that combo originated in Gambia on Africa’s “Rice Coast.”
Mama’s Caribbean Grill & Bar. Noon-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday, noon-midnight Saturday, 1-8 p.m. Sunday. 1504 Central Ave. 704-375-8414.
(4) Cooking Pot African Kitchen
Discover cuisine straight from Mother Africa at this handsomely appointed Independence Boulevard spot. Nigerian-born Esther Ikuru cooks up jolof rice, oxtail, fufu, moi moi and more. New to these tastes? Try one of her flavorful stews over coconut rice.
The Cooking Pot African Kitchen. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday. Independence Shopping Center (5622 E. Independence Blvd., Suite 129). 704-909-4000.
(5) Jamile’s International Cuisine
Vast Africa holds so many food cultures. Jamile Sheikh and her family hail from Somalia near the northeast corner of the continent. The mainstay of their menu is suqar (also spelled sukhaar): grilled chicken or beef stewed with onions and Somali spices. Scoop it up with griddle-made bread called canjera (also spelled canjaaro).
Jamile’s International Cuisine. noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. 4808-G Central Ave. 704-531-1180.
Photos: Tom Hanchett