Restaurant Review: There's something for everyone at East African cafe Baobab Fare
The New Center restaurant and cafe offers a taste of Burundi through comforting, nourishing dishes
You may have heard about the new East African restaurant Baobab Fare in Detroit's New Center, and that it has been a long-in-the-works project from a family of Burundi refugees that have settled in Detroit. It is not just a restaurant and juice bar, but somewhere fellow immigrants can find support and employment.
Open officially since April after a soft debut in February, Baobab Fare at Woodward and Grand Boulevard is one of the most interesting and must-visit new restaurants to open in the city in 2021 so far. Inside they're serving comforting and nourishing dishes that reflect the owners' homeland and fill the dining room with a welcoming aroma.
"We are sharing our culture, and in our culture we are telling stories about our food," said Mamba Hamissi, who co-owns Baobab Fare with his wife, Nadia Nijimbere.
The menu is focused, concise and informative. There are nine main dishes, and two of them are only offered on specific days. Each are clearly marked if they are vegan, vegetarian or contain peanuts. The entire menu is halal, meaning it is prepared in a way that is permissible for Muslims to eat.
If you prefer beef, I suggest the restaurant's signature dish nyumbani, a slow-cooked cut so tender you can eat with a fork alone. It's served with peanut-stewed spinach and fried plantains and your choice of coconut rice or rice pilau. The coconut in the former was only slightly detectable, but was fluffy and ripe for soaking in other flavors of the dish. The rice pilau has a nice color and was rich in warm seasonings like cardamom and clove.
If chicken is more your go-to, try the kuku, which is juicy pieces of poultry cooked with a bright and slightly tangy mustard sauce and softened onions. This dish comes with stewed yellow beans, which have a deep smoky flavor with a texture that nicely complements the rest the plate. Hamissi says nourishing beans like this are eaten daily in his home country and I can see why; I also want to eat them every day.
Kumuhana is another chicken offering, served only during dinner hours, seasoned with onion, garlic and lemon and served with the plantains, beans and rice but also a fresh corn salad. Also on the dinner menu, mbuzi, a popular goat dish in Burundi. For something lighter, try the samaki, a flash-fried swai fish served with sautéed onions and many of the aforementioned sides.
Baobab Fare — named after the African baobab tree — has two vegan dishes: the eggplant stew named Intore, which is also a cultural dance in Africa, and the mboga, spinach and peanuts braised in spices.
Ugali is a vegetarian okra stew served with a dense corn flour ball, available only on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, there's a chance to try mhogo, a vegan or chicken entrée made with the root and the leaves of the cassava plant. Baobab Fare offers these dishes just once a week because the ingredients can be hard to find and they want to be able to offer them consistently. The mhogo, Hamissi says, is time-intensive, which is another reason they offer it just once a week.
Most of the sides and some of the proteins are available as a side dish portion for a more a la carte experience.
Besides the nicely browned fried plantains served with the entrees, another sweet treat is the tamu, a tangy and smooth vegan pudding made with avocado and passion fruit.
Passion fruit is also the piquant star of the popular Ji, a house-made tropical juice served in the dining room or bottled to-go. Baobab Fare, which doesn't serve any alcohol, is a coffeehouse, too, brewing African tea, espresso, Americanos and more. I melted into the "spiced coffee," fall-friendly drink that is more spice than sugar and combines tea, coffee, ginger and other flavors. If the caffeine doesn't snap you out of a mid-day slump, the ginger will.
On the shelf with Ji and a house-made hot sauce, Baobab Fare also sells Burundian coffee in bags or k-cups.
It's a cohesive concept down to the details: the upbeat music, the homespun flavors on the menu and the colors and patterns found in the dining room, which is mostly black and yellow with bits of greens from the many potted plants.
You feel a sense of inclusivity at Baobab Fare. Not just the diversity of the staff or the welcoming smiles (many staff members are immigrants just entering the local workforce), but the menu strives to offer something for all tastes while transporting diners across the globe.
6568 Woodward, Suite 100, Detroit
(313) 265-3093 baobabfare.com
Rating: ★★★ (excellent)
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Entrees $14-$21; sides $5-$10; dessert $7; drinks $3-7.
Reservations: None needed
Carryout: Order online for quick pick-up
Outdoor dining: None
Noise level: Coffee shop vibe during off hours, a little louder when at peak
Accessibility: No barriers
Parking: Metered street parking
What the stars mean:
★ — good
★★ — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — extraordinary