Spice girl

Rating: NNNThe petition signed by pro-gentrification Riverdale rate-payers trying to stop fast food restaurants from opening on the Danforth is.


Rating: NNN

The petition signed by pro-gentrification Riverdale rate-payers trying to stop fast food restaurants from opening on the Danforth is to laugh. As if a Swiss Chalet on the site of a failed Future Bakery franchise will lower the tone of the boulevard.

I’m sure most of us prefer to support mom-and-pop operations over impersonal corporate chains, but those little hole-in-the-wall spots were run out of the neighbourhood by escalating rents years ago by the likes of Pizza Pizza, Timothy’s and Starbucks. Irate in Riverdale: Wake up and smell the double decaf latte!


Greasy spoons

Anyway, it’s not like the majority of Greektown tavernas on the strip are epicurean temples. Hell, the assembly-line souvlaki-on-a-stick peddled on the avenue of broken plates isn’t that different from a quarter-pounder with cheese.

Anybody longing for the Danforth of 20 years back should keep walking east past Pape. It’s all there, from the greasy spoons like Motorama to the cool Only Cafe, the Square Boy Drive-In and a drive-through McDonalds.

And since the end of July, the avenue’s been home to Amadou, the city’s sole West African eatery.

Yes, there used to be another, L’Abidjainaise at Yonge and Yorkville. Though initially promising, it failed to rise above its fish-out-of-water location. Pair that with service that ran from charmingly inept to in-your-face rude and a menu that seemed to consist of exactly one dish — fried fish and rice — and it’s no wonder the joint closed quietly this summer.

Amadou’s off to a bit of a shaky start as well. There’s no walk-by traffic to speak of, and east-end locals haven’t cottoned on that there’s an undiscovered gem in their midst.

On three visits, I’m the only customer. True, it’s far from fast food. In fact, if you’re in a hurry you’ve come to the wrong place. But then, owner Marieme Seck not only waits on tables, she’s the cook and dishwasher, too. And if she suddenly runs out of ingredients, she’ll race up the block to buy them, leaving you alone in the restaurant. What’s not to like?

Since we’ve got a minute, let’s examine the decor. It’s not more than a storefront, really, but the room’s atmospherically appointed in coffee tones on rough stucco walls, offset by African art and a few palm trees. High-backed wicker chairs sit at tables covered in black-on-brown batik fabric. Overhead, several clashing teardrop-shaped Danish Modern chandeliers hang from an acoustic-tiled ceiling. Don’t bother asking Seck if she wants to sell them cheap — she knows they’re worth a fortune.

But you’ll have trouble spending more than 20 bucks at Amadou. Look at the prices on these starters. Sambusa ($1 each, and called pastel in French) are samosa-like pastry triangles filled with either a combo of potato, carrot and corn or sensational boiled whitefish.

Follow that with Nem ($1.50), a double-sized near-Vietnamese spring roll overstuffed with a fabulous melange of crisp purple cabbage strips, rice vermicelli threads, julienned carrot and tasty chicken chunks. This Gabon specialty positively rocks with the addition of Seck’s homemade Scotch-bonnet-and-onion-based hot sauce.


Huge portion

Senegal’s colonial Portuguese past shows up in Cape Verde salad ($4.99), a huge meal-on-its-own portion of steamed potatoes, yams, beets and carrots mixed with Spanish onion, tomato, hardboiled egg slices and iceberg lettuce doused in a simple creamy citrus vinaigrette nipped with Dijon.

Taking a trip from the Middle East via Morocco, tabbouleh ($5) finds the familiar couscous joined by diced tomato, fiery green chilies, mint and parsley drizzled with fresh lemon. Since Amadou hasn’t received its liquor licence yet, wash this spice-fest down with tumblers of delicious house-made drinks, cranberry-tart sorrel and, er, gingery ginger (both $1.50).

Grilled chicken Yassa ($6.50/$5 at lunch) returns to the Senegalese part of the lineup. Marinated in lemon, the thigh and leg come topped with thick, caramelized onion rings and tangy green onions, all on a bed of long-grain rice. As does Malian Mafe ($6.99/$5), a sensuous, slow-cooked stew thick with tender beef, carrots and potatoes smothered in a subtle terracotta-hued chili-peanut sauce.


Smoky fish

This same sauce coats Bourakhe ($6.50), a Guinean dish that features chicken, beef and spinach countered with smoky dried fish. That offputting fishy taste dominates Soupoukandia, an Ivory Coast stew gloopy with okra. Far better is Tiebou Dienne (both $7), a massive slab of fried salmon sided with alloko plantain, tomato-red Jollof rice and an iceberg salad.

It’s not surprising that since Senegal was also once a French colony, a few bistro classics have infiltrated its cuisine. But steak frites, at $12 the most expensive thing on offer, is also the least successful, a very thin, stringy 8-ounce T-bone accompanied by undercooked frozen fries, plantain and more limp lettuce. Why bother?

But Seck’s amazing beignets ($2), a dozen doughnut-like fritters dusted in confectioner’s sugar, are so perfect you’ll want to take another box home. Too bad the coffee’s just standard-issue restaurant java.

Anyone unfamiliar with African food will want to check out Amadou’s $12 all-you-can-eat buffet that features most of the menu and happens on alternate Saturday nights.

“In Senegal, we’re known to be very hospitable,” smiles the striking Seck, who’s a well-known participant at Harbourfront’s food tent for events like Caribana, Kwanzaa and the Hot ‘N’ Spicy Festival. “Any time you visit someone’s home, you get served food. We treat you like you’re one of us.”

stevend@nowtoronto.com

AMADOU


(1802 Danforth, 466-7723)

Modest but atmospherically decked-out storefront eatery serving West African fare from Senegal, Mali and Gabon. Although there’s a very limited list of mains and starters, the highlights are first-rate. Complete meals for $15 per person ($9 at lunch), including all tax, tip and a glass of homemade fruit punch. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Friday 11 am to 10 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating:

Modest but atmospherically decked-out storefront eatery serving West African fare from Senegal, Mali and Gabon. Although there’s a very limited list of mains and starters, the highlights are first-rate. Complete meals for $15 per person ($9 at lunch), including all tax, tip and a glass of homemade fruit punch. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 9:30 pm, Friday 11 am to 10 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Smoke-free. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN

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