Zoma Restaurant

Zoma Restaurant

In an increasingly fast-paced world, restauranteur Zeleke Belete of Zoma cherishes the Ethiopian tradition of communal eating. These customs create a welcoming space, where food is lovingly made and traditions kept vibrant. Zoma Restaurant boasts bright colors, sounds, and scents reminiscent of Zeleke’s home. Ethiopian music plays on a screen in the background, showcasing the elaborate dance routines of the country’s various tribes. Oil paintings of figures in traditional dress line the soft pastel green walls.

Zoma Restaurant
Zoma Restaurant

Zoma Restaurant


For the lunch special, I selected the misir kik, a spicy red lentil stew, and the alicha wat, a mild beef stew. Both came on a bed of injera, the sour spongy bread that forms the foundation of each dish. A wreath of injera rolls surrounds the two mounds. The hearty portion satisfies both my greed and desire for leftovers. The first bite of the beef stew, pinched between a ravenously torn piece of injera, is pure savory warmth. Caramelized onion, ginger, and garlic permeate the tender beef cubes and infuse into the injera base. My first bite of lentils is a fiery hit of flavor, an instant exhilarating rush that brings sweat to my nose and upper lip. Only after tasting the lentils did I fully appreciate the milder, sweeter notes of the beef stew.

Ethiopian food uses lots of onions. Zeleke smiles, recounting the shock on distributors’ faces when they see the fifteen to twenty bags of onions he and his family purchase each week.

During his trips back to Ethiopia, Zeleke and his family stock up on organic spices from home. Spices are the essence of Ethiopian cuisine: among them, red pepper, cardamom, ginger, garlic, and turmeric in different combinations create complex warmth. The order of spices is essential in shaping the flavor profile of each dish. Zeleke explains that when you add garlic to the beef stew, it makes all the difference in the balance of flavors.

Injera is an Ethiopian restaurant’s barometer of success. The spongy starch is made of teff, an Ethiopian grain, and a unique fermentation process creates the signature sour flavor and tiny holes on the surface. Like sourdough, injera requires a starter, or a base culture of yeast, flour, and water used to flavor and ferment a bread product. Unfamiliar to many Western flavor palates, sourness in injera is embraced - in fact, the more sour, the better. Getting the flavor and texture is a finicky chemistry, so when a restaurant finds the right formula, it’s like striking gold. Zeleke shared that the starter for Zoma’s injera came an Ethiopian restaurant in Columbus, and the recipe for their injera is a trade secret. “I wouldn’t give away the recipe for a million dollars.”

In addition to their food offerings, every Sunday the restaurant hosts a coffee ceremony. Zoma roasts their own beans, adding additional depth of flavor with cardamom and cloves. Ethiopian coffee has a concentrated intensity and aroma foreign to many US coffee drinkers who have grown accustomed to sugar-loaded, venti brews. Its portions are served in small cups, inviting drinkers to savor each sip. “Back home, if your neighbor hears you setting up for coffee, you know they’ll be over in a matter of minutes to pay you a visit.” Zoma’s coffee ceremony hearkens back to the coffee shops that line the streets of Addis Ababa, inviting passersby to sit and share a moment of their day.

Zoma Restaurant


After applying for the immigrant visa lottery, Zeleke immigrated to the US in 2005 with his wife and family. Together with his wife, sister, and mother in law, they opened up Zoma in December 2016, taking the name from Zeleke’s mother’s birthplace. Zeleke’s roots are in the countryside, about 180 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

For Zeleke and his family, hard work and long hours are essential. Language barriers, cultural differences, and social isolation were among the initial challenges Zeleke faced when he came to America. But as long as one is willing to put in the work, he believes success will follow.

For new immigrants, he emphasizes the importance of hard work and persistence. He recalls the initially struggling to learn English, but this attitude pushed him to improve. “Some people are afraid to speak English because they think people will judge them. I don’t care – I still try. How else do you learn?”

However, his best advice to new arrivals is to “know your limits;” in other words, to respect the boundaries of one’s physical and mental abilities. “You must not lose sight of family, relationships – the important things in life.”

Zeleke is hopeful for the future. Coming up on the two-year anniversary of its debut, Zoma has captivated locals looking for authentic Ethiopian fare. Zeleke plans to expand the restaurant and add additional traditional seating arrangements to accommodate more guests. Here at Zoma, his philosophy in life and in his food is to emphasize quality over quantity: “if you take care of your customers, they’ll come back.”

About the Author:

Valerie is a proud daughter of immigrants and she believes food is a powerful way to bring people together. She is a nurse based in the greater Cleveland area, and is looking forward to more meals and insightful conversations. Her email is valerie.bai4@gmail.com.



Zoma Restaurant
2240 Lee Road Cleveland, OH 44118.
Phone: 216-465-3239
Telephone: 216.465.3239

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe — Jamaican cuisine to delight every palate
Marilyn Forsythe / Chef Neville Forsythe

First Visit to the Restaurant

The intoxicating aroma of fresh herbs and pungent spices waft through the kitchen door to greet me as I step into the doorway of Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe on Broad Street. Within a few seconds, a waitress with a warm smile said hello and invited me to find a seat wherever I liked. I looked around the room and noticed a handful of customers seated at a few of the tables, nicely arranged inside the modestly spaced building. One side of the wall was painted with a mural showcasing a relaxing spot on the beach in the Caribbean.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Caribbean Mural

I found a table with four chairs by the window and made my way there. Once seated, I gazed outside and smiled, feeling content to be inside this warm café with incredible aromas reminiscent of my grandmother’s kitchen and away from the busy city street bustling with traffic. When the waitress came by to take my order, I was still trying to decide what I wanted to eat. Naturally, my first thought was to go for the jerk chicken. So I asked the waitress whose name I later learned was ‘Zina,’ the best way to combine my order of jerk chicken, seasoned cabbage and rice and peas.  With her recommendation, I was set and went for the quarter jerk chicken entree with an option of two sides; cabbage and rice and peas.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Jerk Chicken with Cabbage, Rice, and Peas

My meal came out within minutes of placing the order. It was delightful to see. My eyes feasted on the colorful array of food so artfully arranged on the plate, it looked more like an entrée one would enjoy at a fine dining restaurant than a dish from a casual bistro like this one. The fragrance from the food was absolutely intoxicating for my senses. I began with the jerk chicken and Oh my! The chicken was moist, succulent and flavorful. It had a nice, spicy and smoky taste.  Next, I was ready to sample the cabbage.  It was not at all what I expected. I was so thrilled by the taste of fresh herbs, light spices and the crispiness of the vegetable. I had never had cabbage like this before and would certainly add this to my list of favorite dishes. The rice and peas had all the right spices and was quite yummy.  I had also requested a sampling of the jerk marinade – the extra, extra, extra hot. The waitress had already informed me about the specialness of the sauce. She told me the sauce is only served upon special request because of the nature of its ingredients and the level of spicyness it holds.  I told her that I could handle it. And I added the sauce to my dish. For those who enjoy the next level of spicyness, you’ll love this sauce.  For all others, trust me when I say the sauce delivers on its name.  I kept my cold glass of water close by and sipped as I ate my meal. It was just what my palate was craving.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Handwritten Specialties Menu

The Genesis of the Restaurant

Three and a half years and counting… who knew the genesis of Mrs. B’s Reggae Café really began with serving up traditional rum cakes?

“It all started with the rum cake. I was selling the traditional Jamaican rum cakes at the Chattanooga market and working another temporary office job,” Marilyn recalls.

The traditional Jamaican rum cake is a popular dessert enjoyed by families during holidays and other special occasions. It is a rich, fruit-laden confection soaked in a number of liquors that may include port wine or even stout, but always include rum. Core ingredients also include butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg and few other spices. The addition of alcohol not only flavors this seasonal treat, but also preserves it for weeks. It’s enjoyed with a cup of coffee, tea or a customary glass of rum.  it’s a delicacy that has deep cultural and historical roots for Jamaicans.

The rum cakes Marilyn was offering at the market were selling quickly and customers were requesting more. That’s when Marilyn and her husband, Neville began researching local sites where they could not only offer desserts with rum cakes as the main attraction, but also coffee, special cocktails, sandwiches and much more.

They began scouting local sites in the heart of the city, areas with reasonable traffic and accessible to both locals and tourists. They found a spot on Broad Street just on the outskirts of St. Elmo that had housed a few different restaurants over the years, eateries that just didn’t quite catch on with the locals, so the building was up for lease. The Forsythes expressed an interest in leasing the building but had to wait until a prospective client bowed out.

“The building was up for lease and I called the property owner and he said, ‘Oh, I wish you had called me sooner.’ I have somebody looking at it. if things don’t work out I’ll let you know,” Marilyn explained.

And as luck would have it two weeks later, the Forsythes got the phone call they had been waiting for. The property manager accepted their offer to lease the building and they moved forward with their plans to get the site ready for opening day. Mrs. B’s Reggae Café, Chattanooga’s only authentic Jamaican food destination, was born on June 19, 2014.

Meet the Restaurateur

‘Amazing food’ has always been front and center for this Chattanooga restaurateur whose roots hail from Jamaica, some thirty years ago.  Marilyn Forsythe and her husband Chef Neville have called the Scenic City home for over three decades. They have three adult children and one grandson.

However, the restaurant is now their full time ‘baby.’ Chef Neville works seven days a week and his day in the restaurant kitchen begins at 9 a.m. and lasts until close to midnight. Marilyn handles the business side of things along with creating those unforgettable rum cakes. She begins her baking prep work in the early morning and has servers that setup the restaurant dining room in preparation for serving lunch and dinner. During the week, they open up Wednesday through Friday for lunch at 11 a.m.  and close briefly at 3 p.m.  Then, they open again for dinner at 4:30 p.m. until closing time at 10:00 p.m.  Saturday it’s a 12 p.m. start until 10:00 p.m. Sunday’s hours are 12 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Quality ingredients and a global culinary expertise are the common thread for the couple behind the cuisine at Mrs B’s. Chef Neville got his start as a Navy cook many years ago and fine tuned his culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America.  Also growing up in a household where good food was an everyday occurrence was just a bonus.

“Being a Navy cook was part of my roots, and it’s not just opening cans and cooking that way. I went to school and sat in a classroom and took tests to learn how to cook, keeping cultural and dietary requirements in mind,” Neville said

“You’re cooking for hundreds of people several times a day (referring to his years of service in the Navy.) It was fascinating and wonderful. Then what I learned at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) was fine tuning my cooking style. What I do now on a daily basis is to take those experiences and add my special touch.”

His wife, Marilyn who attended Shortwood Teacher’s College in Jamaica, also shares a similar background where excellent tasting food and quality ingredients go hand in hand. She still remembers as a young girl, helping her mother gather organic produce for cooking.

“I remember when I was growing up and helping my mom cook. She had a vegetable garden and she would send me out to get fresh herbs that she would put in the pot right away. And she didn’t just cook Jamaican dishes or cuisine. She also loved to try different dishes as well. She wouldn’t hesitate to grab the cookbook and try something new at least one day out of the week. That would be the day that I am flying home from school to sample her cooking. She would make these meatballs and gravy, green beans and her macaroni and cheese was out of this world.  When she makes the traditional ackee (fruit) and saltfish (traditional Jamaican dish), it’s so good. ”

With the bar set pretty high by their parents cooking, the Forsythes say creating amazing dishes with quality ingredients became part of their DNA. That’s another reason why they make their dishes from scratch. It’s a labor of love says Chef Neville but he loves it. Neville is mentoring a young chef in training who helps him with some of the kitchen preparations. He shares his culinary knowledge with him – helping to grow the next generation of dynamic chefs.

“I have a wonderful young man who works with me. He’s been with us for a year. I give him reading assignments. I recently loaned him a book called ‘How to read a French fry,’ it’s a cookbook that focuses on the science of cooking.”

For this restaurateur the science of cooking is essential to how he approaches his cooking which translates into reinventing dishes and experimenting with flavors and textures. Chef Neville travels around the country and brings back new and fresh ideas which he uses to create different dishes and provide diners with a real distinctive experience. With that, customers can expect to see innovative and unique dishes on the restaurant menu from time to time. Marilyn says customers have been very receptive to trying something new.

“We try to introduce folks to different and unique flavors. Too many people think Jamaican food is just jerk chicken or jerk pork and hot peppers. There’s so much more to it. We did a dinner last summer at the restaurant. We invited people to come in and try prepared dishes similar to what you eat at the home of a Jamaican family.  People enjoyed the experience. It was a family style dinner with everyone sitting around a big table having conversation.

The Cuisine

Every dish is made from scratch including the beef patties which is a staple at a Jamaican restaurant. Chef Neville makes the dough and rolls them out one at a time. Cooking to please varied palates takes years of experience and planning. And Jamaican cuisine can be different for every family. Some may like it hot and others may prefer a milder flavor.  There are vegetarian options and gluten free offerings as well.

Chef Neville’s Special

Let’s explore some of Chef Neville’s special creations. A visit to this unique Jamaican restaurant is not complete without a sampling of a few of Chef  Neville’s special appetizers which includes the award winning Lollipop Jerk Wings and the Reggae Rolls. For those adventurous types, a taste of De Voodoo Chicken will make your dining experience here truly unforgettable. A word of caution — it is not for the faint of heart! Take my word for it!

The Reggae Rolls which can be great for special occasions, is a play on the Jamaican reggae theme, they resemble spring rolls and are filled with various vegetables including carrots then deep fried. When you bite into it, you’ll hear a crunch sound and the flavor is full and robust.

Then there are the Lollipop Wings which are regular full size wings, cut with the bones sticking out. These are also great for parties. Chef Neville was first introduced to the idea of lollipop wings while studying at the Culinary Institute of America. He decided to bring it to Chattanooga and added his special touch. Now It’s  become quite a hit with customers.  And it’s no wonder–the wings have won many awards.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Lollipop Wings & Reggae Rolls

The Jerk Stuffed Burger is a whole lot of burger with a flavorful experience. It can easily be named the best darn burger in town. They’ve got my son’s vote and he has had many a burger both near and far.

The process for making the burger begins with a 10.5 ounce ground beef, which is then seasoned with various spices and then mixed in with chopped jerk chicken. It takes 20 minutes to prepare. It is served on a fresh bun with lettuce and tomatoes plus a side of grilled potatoes garnished with rosemary. If you’re in a hurry, the restaurateur will gladly recommend another dish. But it is worth the wait, if you can spare the time.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Jerk Stuffed Burger

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes –De Voodoo Chicken- first appeared to Chef Neville in a dream.

“I woke up one morning and it came to me. At the time, I had no idea what it was going to be, but I knew it would be something special.  I thought about it, and drew from my culinary experiences, and then I knew what I wanted and just began creating the dish.”

What’s in the dish?  Boneless skinless chicken breasts, sautéed onions, bell peppers, hot peppers (scotch bonnet or habanera peppers – they use whichever one is available) shallots and garlic. The dish is plated with rice, sliced pineapples and fresh coconut, these help with the flavor and softens the pepper a little bit. According to Chef Neville, this dish has become their number one seller. The term Voodoo is not always warmly embraced because of its religious connotations but in this particular case, the name adds an element of mystery to the restaurant menu options.

And oh the cabbage, the cabbage is a must.  Customers rave about this side dish which takes just minutes to prepare. It takes four minutes altogether. First, you boil the cabbage in salted water for two to three minutes. Then cool it off and when a customer places the order, it is then sautéed with garlic and fresh herbs so it remains nice and crispy, not overcooked. It’s like no other cabbage dish.

The drinks are refreshing, colorful and very tasty. There are a variety of non-alcoholic beverages along with beer. And if you are in the mood for wine, the restaurant has a partnership with Imbibe, a local wine and spirits shop – customers can contact Imbibe for a recommendation on the best wine selections to pair with Jamaican dishes offered at Mrs B’s.  Since Mrs. B’s doesn’t offer wine, they invite customers to bring their own and just note there will be a small corkage fee.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
The Infamous Voodoo Chicken

Making the rum cake

This is Marilyn’s specialty. She has been making rum cakes for as long as she can remember. The signature traditional rum cake is sweet, succulent and delicious. It’s so delightful that customers from California to Canada and Jamaica order them regularly, sometimes by the dozen.

“It takes a good four hours to make, between prepping, mixing and baking.  When you do something for so long you start to figure out different little things about it – the science behind it. I’m realizing certain things are going to make it even better and better. I have customers who tell me these cakes are so good and I say wait until you taste the next one.”

Staying connected and much more

Staying connected is part of what keeps Marilyn busy, besides taking care of customers. She’s made sure that Mrs. B’s Reggae Café customers can remain engaged on social media.  The restaurant has a following on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  The Yelp reviews were organically established. Customers began posting reviews after their dining experience at Mrs B’s which have been overwhelmingly positive.  And so the Forsythes let it continue, grateful for grassroots effort which gives them insight on feedback from customers.

You can connect with and follow Mrs. B’s Reggae Café on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A new partnership with Uber Eats set to launch in mid-March of this year will offer food delivery for customers, which the restaurateurs hope will give the business a much needed boost.

Website traffic could also see a bump. Customers can order a variety of Chef Neville’s special sauce creations online. There’s always an option to call the restaurant for a more personalized service. They can package several at a time and minimize shipping costs.

There is a steady stream of customers but like any business, there’s always room for growth.  Catering has provided some additional business. In fact, the restaurant receives requests for catering parties and special events from time to time. However, they limit their catering orders so they can focus their attention on restaurant customers — ensuring that each customer that walks through the restaurant doors enjoys a unique dining experience. When the Forsythes do agree to cater an event, they first invite the client to come in to discuss their catering needs. This allows them to make that personal connection which is such a part of their warm Jamaican hospitality.

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe
Jamaican International Soccer Team’s Signatures From Their Visit

Words of wisdom from Mrs B’s for those trying Jamaican food for the first time

Just come in with an open mind…

The first time people come into the restaurant, Marilyn Forsythe says she tells customers to start with the most popular dish from Jamaica which for many is jerk chicken or jerk pork. Other well known cuisine are rice and peas and curry goat.

“Start with those basics then taste and explore other dishes when you visit again.  If you live here in town, it means you’ll be back again, because the restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes that will please just about any palate. Not everything is hot but everything is flavorful.”

“I had a couple come in one time and ask me, what is the best thing on the menu? And I said, everything is amazing. I’m not just saying that. You have to decide to try a dish and then the next time venture out and try something else,” she said.

An open invitation

You’re invited to embark upon a unique dining adventure… Chef Neville and Marilyn promise an unforgettable dining experience where quality ingredients and amazing food will bring you back again and again.

Mrs B’s Reggae Café is unassuming. When you walk in, you’ll take in the view quickly and will probably briefly gaze upon the mural painted by a local artist featured on the right hand side of the wall, showcasing a Caribbean theme. The scene paints a picture of a relaxing spot along the beach on the coast. If you happen to visit during the evening, you will most likely hear the upbeat tempo of Jamaican music playing in the background.

Expect the light hearted laughter and bubbly warm personalities of the restaurant owners and wait staff to make you feel truly at home. Yeah mon!!!

Mrs B’s Reggae Cafe

Visit Mrs. B’s Reggae Cafe

3103 Broad St, Chattanooga, TN 37408

Phone: (423) 702-5808

About the Author:
Chinyere’s WordPress Blog
Chinyere Ubamadu is a marketing communications professional and freelance writer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is a food enthusiast who enjoys global cuisine and traveling. Her travels and foodie adventures have taken her to four continents. When she’s not applying her creativity and problem solving skills to meet business needs, she’s challenging herself hiking, running or practicing yoga.

Little Aladdin Restaurant

Little Aladdin Restaurant

The open kitchen is what you first see when you enter the restaurant. You can smell Eastern Mediterranean cuisine and hear the sound of beef, chicken, or lamb sizzling on the flat top grill. Fresh pastries sit in the pastry display on top of the bakery display fridge, which contains a popular brand for Middle-Eastern foods called Mira. To the left of the ordering counter is a beverage fridge that even contains a popular Middle-Eastern drinkable yogurt called Ayran among the classic cokes and ginger ales.

If you’re lucky, the owner will take your order and make the meal in front of you. “All of our ingredients are fresh” he proudly tells me. As a restaurant owner, husband, and father, his life is always busy. Plans change at a moment’s notice, and Mohamed handles these disruptions with ease, multi-tasking with consummate finesse. Despite this, Mohamed still remembers the names of the majority of his frequent patrons. The bulk of his customers are students from the high school and college down the street. Customers can enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, free tea, and wi-fi as they dig into their shawarmas.

Life of Mohamed

Owner of Little Aladdin Eastern Mediterranean cuisine

Mohamed first came to America as a 26 year-old student in March of 1996. A civil engineering major from Egypt, he attended the University of New Haven because it was one of the few schools that offered his major.  As he had learned English at school before he came to America, maintaining his grades was relatively easy. His biggest challenge was paying for school and he had to make ends meet by getting a job at a nearby restaurant. Little did he know at the time this opportunity would convince him to open up his own food-related business in the future. Unfortunately, Mohamed had to complete his bachelor’s degree in Egypt due to financial issues. Subsequently, shortly after getting married, Mohamed came to the realization that running a restaurant was the best way to support his new family. He moved back to America and opened his first restaurant May 1, 2004 in Hartford, Connecticut with a couple of his friends from the States. This restaurant opened in January of 2016 and is immensely popular with the many UConn students that frequent the establishment.

The Food

Mediterranean cuisine, as the name implies, collectively includes the food from all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This wide swath includes many European, North African and Middle Eastern countries. Many of the foods are characterized by the use of yogurt, olives, parsley, thyme, dill weed, fava beans, chickpeas, lamb, and goat. That said, diversity is the hallmark of Mediterranean cuisine, with Italian and French cuisine being dramatically different from their North African and Eastern Mediterranean counterparts. Mohammed’s restaurant specializes in Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, heavily influenced by the Levant.

When I asked Mohamed the questions, “what is your favorite Eastern Mediterranean dish” and “what would you recommend to people who are new to Mediterranean food?” Mohamed begins to answer and then falters. “All of them are good” he says. Despite coaxing him to name at least one dish, Mohamed stays firm with his answer. “If I give you my opinion, then people will think that only falafels are good, or koftas are good. I want people to try everything and then see for themselves”. It is imperative that Mohamed remains unbiased because he wants people to discover their own favorite foods. He maintains a friendly demeanor to encourage his customers to eat something they are unfamiliar with. Fortunately, I was able to learn that the chicken shawarma is the most popular item on the menu. As a newbie, I decided to try that as my first meal.

My Experience with Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine

When Mohamed called out my order, I was greeted with a large plate of meat. Upon closer inspection I realized that there was a layer of rice under the chicken. A few slices of pickles rest in the corner of the plate and two different sauces are provided. One is the classic tzaziki, a yogurt and cucumber sauce redolent with garlic. The second is tahini, made with sesame seeds, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and water. My first bite of the shawarma was filled with pleasantly bitter flavor of the charred chicken. The chicken was both tender and crispy, and the rice contained pieces of carrots that did not detract from the flavors of the meat. The sourness of the pickles balances out the bitter tastes from the meat, so I enjoyed the addition of the pickles slices and the tzatziki. I finished the meal a full and happy customer.

Apart from shawarma, Eastern Mediterranean cuisine found on the menu also includes appetizers like hummus, baba ghanoush and falafel; salads like tabbouleh (bulgur wheat and parsley) or fattoush, with lettuce, tomato, mint and onions.  Different kinds of kebabs are also available ranging from chicken to kaufta, made of ground lamb.  Dessert features the ubiquitous baklava or herrisa, a semolina cake soaked in syrup.

Eastern Mediterranean cuisine


If you are a hungry student or just someone who wants to try something different then I recommend visiting Little Aladdin in Storrs, Mansfield, Connecticut. You can make friends with Mohamed and try unique Eastern Mediterranean cuisine that will allow you to experience a part of another culture.


Little Aladdin Restaurant
Address: 1232 Storrs Rd, Storrs, CT 06268
Phone: 860-477-1133
Fax: 860-477-1117
Email: info@littlealaddin.com

McKoi-Alaia Brown is an aspiring travel critic, writer, and photographer. She is currently earning her bachelor’s degree while trying to gain new experiences, and exploring what life has to offer. Follow her on Instagram here.

Ike’s Cafe and Grill

The Setting

When I first walked into Ike’s Café and Grill in Norcross, I felt as if I’d somehow wandered into my favorite aunt and uncle’s home. How I was just now visiting this not so hidden gem? As a 2nd generation Cameroonian living in Atlanta, I’d often heard that Ike’s was the go to place for a taste of authentic African food. Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by the warm, rich smells and bold decor. Dark wood and gold washed walls create an environment that felt simultaneously exotic and inviting. Soft lamps highlighted pots of flowers that caught the eye and added welcome bursts of color to more intimate corners of the rooms. I immediately sought to find out more about the owner’s history.

Ike's Cafe & Grill

A Taste of Home

The restaurant began as an African Foods grocery store that offered rare ingredients shipped directly from various countries in Africa. Ghanaian by birth, Ike saw an opportunity to further serve his loyal patrons and opened up the restaurant in 2013. It would be an understatement to say that Ike’s was a hit from the start. Perry Boakye, Ike’s nephew and one of the restaurant’s co-managers, explained that it was the family’s mission to serve their community with pride, hard work, and consistency.

“Ike’s purpose for opening the restaurant was to bring Africa to America so that people who love food, from all walks of life, can experience a taste of our home. No matter where you are from, there is something here for everyone.”

The space is thoughtfully designed to accommodate patrons looking to celebrate any and every occasion. Meals and drinks are served at the bar for those looking to catch a game on one of the big screen TV, or who simply wish dive elbow deep in a bowl of hearty soup. Guests are also welcome to relax in tables and booths in the dining area, a private VIP section, or the veranda outside of the restaurant.

Ike's VIP section(VIP)

“Africa” Ike’s Way

Ike’s menu offers an eclectic selection of delicious meals that serve as a flavor-based representation of Africa. Next to many dishes on the menu, guests can find the flag of the country from which the dish originated. Appetizers include Peppered Snails, Fried Plantains, Curried Goat, and the ever popular Suya.

Suya is a West African street food consisting of thinly sliced meat that is marinated in a complex mix of spices, then grilled and served on a skewer. Though the flavor of Suya varies depending on personal and regional preferences, appreciation for the savory dish is common amongst many of the countries whose dishes are featured on the menu such as Sudan, Nigeria, and Cameroon. This is largely due to the fact that in some parts of Africa, meat is not commonly available and is often considered to be a luxury.

Ike's African food

  (Ike’s Suya)

“Africans love to eat meat!” Perry explains with a chuckle, “Suya is the most convenient way of cooking and serving meat, and our African patrons recognize that. So Suya is another way that we bring a staple African food to America.”

At Ike’s, Suya is prepared in a method similar to that of a Cameroonian street vendor. This entails slicing and grilling the cuts of beef to be served with a pepper mix on the side. Ghanaian style Suya in comparison is both seasoned and peppered before grilling and is served as a shish kabob. While this method of preparing Suya is most common, the Cameroonian recipe more easily accommodates guest who are not partial to spicy foods. Ike’s also serves a delicious Chicken Suya to further distinguish its menu since beef is more commonly chosen for this recipe. I have had the pleasure of tasting both the beef and chicken Suya and have yet to pick a favorite. Each cut of meat is tender and juicy with a light crisp around the edges from being repetitively kissed by flames on the grill. Ginger, onion, and garlic blend with a medley of herbs to create a mouthwatering experience upon the first bite. Ike’s may as well serve Suya in a Pringles can because once you pop one in your mouth, you won’t be able to stop. Thankfully, the dish is so reasonably priced that you won’t have to.

African food

(Ayamase Bowl)

Banga African food

 (Banga/Palm Nut Soup)

For those with an eclectic palate who would like a truly unique taste of African food and drink, Ike’s also offers a selection of native wines and beers. One such beverage is called Ogogro, a locally produced hard liquor mixed with herbal tonics and used for medicinal purposes. Another rare offering is Palm Wine, a sweet, fermented drink made from diluting the sap from date palms such as the African Oil Palm. Served in a calabash, a cup made from a dried melon or squash, the flavor is reminiscent of a hard cider with a nutty finish that is refreshing and unique.

More to Come

As Ike’s restaurant continues to draw guests with savory dishes like the Grilled Tilapia or Red Red, the opportunity for expansion becomes increasingly possible. “My aunt Ama, who actually had a hand in designing this place, is in Ghana working on opening up another restaurant.” I certainly intend to continue my patronage of Ike’s Café and Grill to get a taste of excellent service, relaxing ambience, and delicious food.


Ike’s Cafe and Grill
1250 Tech Drive, Norcross, GA 30093
(770) 559-1579

Valerie Fuoching is an Atlanta-based foodie of Cameroonian descent.  One of her goals over the next year is to explore the greater Atlanta area one restaurant at a time…