Here’s something important to keep in mind about supporting Black-owned restaurants and other Black-owned businesses: We can’t do it just once. To make this right, we need to get into the habit of dining and shopping regularly at businesses owned by our Black, indigenous, and other brothers and sisters of color.
According to U.S. Census data, Louisville is about 70 percent white and moving toward one-quarter black, with smaller numbers of Hispanic, Asian, and other ethnicities. I might not commit to a rigid pattern of stopping at one Black-owned eatery for a certain number of reviews, but it must be done regularly, not one-and-done.
So, the quest for something different and delicious led me this week to Funmi’s Cafe. Hidden away in a nook cut into the back of Gardiner Lane Shopping Center, it’s Louisville’s only Nigerian restaurant. It’s known for friendly, welcoming service and a delicious introduction to African fare.
While the pandemic continues, though, they’ll greet us with a smile in their voice when we call in, but keeping the front door closed.
“Dear valued customers,” explains a note taped to that door and pinned to the top of Funmi’s Facebook page: “We will not be opening our facility to dine in. … We are taking measures to make sure that we can continue to serve you and maintain the health and safety of our customers and ourselves as our nation deals with this pandemic. As such, we would continue taking all orders … for delivery or curbside pickup. Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected by this pandemic and we thank you for your support during this trying period.”
Seems fair enough to me! Funmi’s online ordering menu is run by Grubhub, and it’s clean, clear, and simple to use, with photos of many dishes. I created an order, marked it for curbside pickup, set a time, paid by credit card, and sat back to wait.
About an hour later, just before noon, BOOM! “Hello Robin,” read email and a text from GrubHub. “We’ve cancelled your order with Funmi’s Cafe scheduled for 1 p.m. The charge we’ve placed on your payment method for this order will be refunded shortly.” This was particularly frustrating because it gave no reason. It was like being brusquely turned away by the bouncer on the rope line at Studio 54.
So I got on the horn and placed my order by phone with a friendly man at Funmi’s. Apparently if you place a GrubHub order before the restaurant’s opening hours it will silently fail. It would be nice if they explained that.
Serving Louisville Nigerian and other African treats for more than a decade, Yomi and Funmi Aderinokun have made this little storefront a community landmark. The extensive menu offers a deep dive into Nigerian cuisine, with a few leaps into other African regions and beyond.
About 24 entrees are divided between meat and vegan dishes, most served with two sides. About half of them include fufu, a West African starch specialty that involves pounding yam flour, cassava, corn flour, or oat flour into a paste and forming it into a glossy ball of tasty carbohydrates. The vegan dishes range in price from $14.99 (for mushroom peanut stew) to $16.99 (for okra, collard greens or melon seed stew). Meat dishes are priced from $14.99 (for chicken peanut stew) to $18.99 (for stewed goat meat).
Another two dozen appetizers, soups, salads, and sides are priced from $2 (for flatbread, a pita-type round cut into quarters) to $12.99 (for an appetizer combination that will introduce you to Nigerian fare with an array of ewa, dodo, moin-moin, and sambusa: brown beans, plantains, a bean cake, and a fried turnover). Only non-alcoholic beverages are served, including American and African brand soft drinks.
Our lunch was ready when ordered, brought out steaming hot in plastic foam boxes and brown paper bags all packed into a large plastic bag.
Sambusas ($5.99), crisp-fried turnovers with their roots in Indian cuisine, are available stuffed with chicken, beef and collard greens, or spiced lentils, stuffed into triangular pastry shells and fried. Flavors were good but the pastry was surprisingly tough and chewy, suggesting that it may have been made earlier and microwaved to reheat.
A generous portion of kachumbari slaw ($5.99) was a bright reddish-purple color thanks to the shredded red cabbage that dominates the mix, along with chopped onion and cucumber, and a few scattered tomato chunks and cilantro leaves. It had been marinated in a bright sweet-and-sour mix, with a standard international vinaigrette in a tub on the side.
Tanzanian beef stew ($11.99), pictured at the top of the page, was ordered mild in Funmi’s spice hierarchy. It was a hearty blend of long-cooked potato dice, carrot strips, and abundant chunks of chewy, almost gamey stewing beef in a soupy golden-brown, curry-scented broth.
Veggie rice ($9.99), ordered medium-hot, is a delicious main-dish rice bowl infused with ginger and garlic and chopped collard greens, broccoli florets, mushrooms, and carrot dice in a chef’s specialty rice cooked with collard greens, broccoli, and carrots in ginger and garlic sauce. It’s available with added tofu, mushrooms, chicken or beef for $5 more.
Our filling Nigerian meal came to just over $40, plus a 20 percent tip.