Restaurant Review: Asempe Kitchen
Editor’s Note: Asempe Kitchen offers a new menu each week. As photos are taken following each review, CU was unable to photograph the dishes purchased by the reviewer.
If The Hills Market Downtown’s eternal wonderland of eating options in the back has grown tiresome, Asempe Kitchen has been shaking up its kitchen scene at the front of the house on Wednesdays. Once a week, the pop-up sets up shop for a tiny window of time between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. That said, personal experience indicates that Asempe’s food is typically sold out well before closing time arrives.
Asempe Kitchen is a catering operation that does African food. Africa’s a big continent, so more specifically: it offers up Ghanaian food. As is the case in any pop-up operation, there’s some variance in the menu from week-to-week. The customers who were queued up before 11:30 a.m. attested that prior experience with Asempe indicated that whatever was on the menu was going to be worth a culinary gamble. Control-freaks can view the options as they’re served from warming pans. There are three basic ways to approach a meal: choose one entree and a side for $8, choose two entrees and a side for $12, or choose three entrees, a side and a roll for $14. As a general M.O., more is better here, and ordering big means you’ll have enough to take home.
Dishes tried so far include the Stewed Okra, which is made in two versions: with and without mackerel. The mackerel wholly influences the outcome of the dish. If you go straight okra, you get an appealing scoop of nicely seasoned, super-thick stew, well populated with chopped chunks of the soft vegetable. As for the mackerel version, it takes on the distinct flavor of the aforementioned fish, and the stew itself takes on a heartier dimension. The latter version will also launch an internet search to understand the difference between mackerel and tuna. It will take a long time to find something resembling intellectual satisfaction.
Red Red is a black-eyed peas dish. The (yes, red) concoction is dense with nutty-flavored black-eyed peas and enhanced with a little zip of heat. It pairs nicely with rice as a side to shake things up, although plantains are also an option.
Then there is Spinach with Melon Seeds (the proprietor mentioned that the seeds are “for protein”). This might be the favored item, although trying everything in the house is truly the best way to go. The melon seed element blends seamlessly into the cooked spinach mix and creates an entree that’s something like a soufflé casserole. Much like the mackerel dish, the melon seed element launched an internet search. It turns out that the seeds of many melons are quite edible, rich in potassium, and indeed a legit source of protein.
It would be a terrible error to omit a reference to the house bread. The menu calls it Asempe Roll, but it was also referred to as “Tilly Bread” during the visit, and we were told that it’s baked by the proprietor’s mother. The bread is beautiful, like a classical dinner roll, but with a sweet wholesomeness that makes you want to buy a whole tray to take home.
You can find the rolls, stews, and a good reason to spend lunch on the internet trying to learn stuff at The Hills Market Downtown on Wednesdays at 95 N. Grant Ave.
For more information, visit asempekitchen.com.