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In Dining

Ugbana Otikor owns and operates Taste of Africa in Port Washington with his chef wife, Ernestina. The couple bottles the sauces they serve at the cafe.

In Dining

A sample of the sauces, rices, sides, meats and seafood offered at the restaurant. Photo: Taste of Africa

Eating African in Port Washington


Let's be frank. The basement of a bowling alley in Port Washington is the last place you would expect to find an African restaurant.

But Taste of Africa has been doing just fine there for three years, expanding from a carry-out only business to a small cafe with seating for about 25. "Our customers asked for tables," explains founder Ugbana Otikor, who owns and operates the eatery with his wife, Ernestina.

The restaurant's success is certainly due in part to its appeal to people with food allergies. The menu is completely gluten, sugar and dairy free.

West African cuisine allows that. Nine different types of rice ($3.95 or $4.95) are offered. Aroni combines classic white rice with browned gluten-free spaghetti. Coconut features fresh coconut milk and flakes.

You can order saffron rice, which has a mild curry flavor, alone or with fresh peas and cashews. Joloff rice is prepared with tomatoes, tomato paste, onions and African red pepper. Wakye adds black-eyed peas to basic white rice.

The Otikors make six sauces that can be mixed and matched with the rices for vegetarian meals. For $2.95, diners can choose among egg, eggplant, natural unsweetened peanut butter, and others. Most are tomato based.

Ernestina Otikor, who is from Ghana, was trained as a chef in Africa, and authentic family recipes are followed with one exception. The heat is removed to conform better to American palates. Those who like some fire in their food can add shito black pepper sauce, made with dried shrimp powder, onions and hot pepper, for $1.25.

Grilled meat and seafood dinners are priced from $8.95 for a chicken leg to $19.95 for a whole tilapia. Goat, pork, beef, catfish, shrimp and chicken breast are also on the menu. All entrees are accompanied by a choice of rice and sauce.

Fried plantains are available in several variations. They are $4.95 as a side or as sliced crisps, and $9.95 when mixed with baked beans in a vegetarian stew that can be served with one of the rice dishes.

A mild African-style chili called pili-pili ($6.95) won Port Washington's Hot in the Harbor chili cook-off.

Beverages offered include the Mexican Jarritos brand of fruit-flavored sodas, which Ugbana Otikor says pair especially well with his African food. Gluten-free Redbridge beer and Shakparo ale are also on the menu.

Taste of Africa, which also does catering, is located in the basement of Willie's Wish Bowling Lanes, down the block from the historic Port Hotel. It is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 10 on Saturday and noon to 6 on Sunday.

When Ugbana Otikor moved from his native Nigeria to Ohio in 1980 to attend Kent State University, he did not dream he would someday be running an African restaurant in small town Wisconsin. A computer support technician, web designer and host, he moved to Milwaukee in 1999 and Port Washington in 2006.

"I like the quietness here," he says. "I like being by the lake. I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Africa, and this reminds me of the Niger Delta."

The Otikors are very entrepreneurial. Taste of Africa sauces are sold by the bottle at the restaurant, on its website and in a growing number of retail outlets. In Milwaukee, they are available at the Asian Mart on Old World 3rd Street and at J&S African Center on Teutonia Avenue.

The couple is now working on a West African cookbook that will be published.

"Business has been very good," Ugbana says. "People in Port have bent over backward to make us feel welcome."


Talkbacks

RJ | Jan. 3, 2012 at 10:57 a.m. (report)

Sounds like a gem-- Thanks for this article.

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