World Beat Cafe
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., July 20, 2001
World Beat Cafe600 W. MLK Blvd., 236-0197
Mon-Thu, 11am-9pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-10pm; Sun, noon-6pm
Lawrence Eguakun is a Nigerian who has blessed Austin with one of the more interesting additions to our ever-expanding world of diverse ethnic dining. He operates the World Beat Cafe at the corner of MLK and Nueces (next to Bert's BBQ), featuring the foods of Nigeria and Ghana, with a smattering of Ethiopian dishes thrown in. For those unsure of African cuisine, trust us, the flavors are unique and delicious, and the portions substantial.
We heard about World Beat from a cab driver who highly recommended it. On the first visit, we found a medium-sized tidy cafe decorated with large hand-painted African mask paintings and photos of African women in resplendent native dress. Lawrence gave us informative descriptions of the menu items, and we waited a short time for our order to arrive.
We started with some excellent akara fritters (99 cents) made of puréed, soaked black-eyed peas (with the skins rubbed off) incorporated into a rich, nutty dough, golden-fried, and incredibly tasty. Next came unbelievably flaky meat and potato-filled Nigerian meat pies ($1.49), which are nicely spiced turnovers (and a fine medium for the ata chile sauce on the side). We could have eaten several of them apiece, but were glad for our restraint when the main courses arrived. We had ordered two different rice plates, with two different meats.
The Jollof rice plate ($6.99) arrives as an overflowing platter of a large mound of tomato and chile-spiced rice, surrounded by a ring of crisp fried plantains with moist steaming centers. To the side is a mound of succulent, fork-tender beef cubes, topped with a fiery pepper-tomato sauce. The white rice plate with chicken ($6) is very similar, except the rice is white, of course, the chicken is even more tender than the beef, and the sauce is spicier. Both are excellent and unusual tastes.
The following visit was preceded with more of the irresistible meat pies, with the big platter this time composed of egusi "soup" with goat ($7.99). Egusi are dried and ground melon seeds that are used as a flavoring agent, as well as the thickener, for a stew of greens topped with chunks of unctuous kid goat meat in a piquant sauce. This sits atop a mound of foo foo, which is a polenta-like mound of mashed white yam. The flavor combination is exquisite.
Next came a rich Ethiopian platter of sega wott (beef stewed with spices and chile, $7.25), accompanied by vegetables sautéed in spiced butter, lentils, greens with chiles, and a fine rendition of spongy injera bread for scraping everything up. This round was even better than the first, and even more unique.
All of the platters can come with any of four different meats (beef, chicken, fish, or goat) at slightly varying prices. There is also a large selection of vegetarian items on the menu, and there seems to be an established crowd of regulars coming in for those treats. The menu also offers a selection of burgers (including a fabulous veggie burger made from the akara patties, $2.99).
As if the wonderful African tastes of World Beat weren't enough, there is a new slant on the unique worldly flavors offered there. On Saturdays and Sundays only, Doña Emilia's Cocina Colombiana (762-1450) sets up shop, sharing the space of World Beat. Emilia Hurtado has an arrangement with Lawrence to serve her traditional Colombian menu only on weekends while she seeks her own site.
We sampled the Bandeja Paisa platter (at $9 the most expensive menu item) and were agog with the flavors set before us. Up first was a large platter with delightful carne molido beef, white rice topped with a fried egg, red beans, fried pork belly, fried sweet plantains, and an arepa cornmeal patty with avocado and aji chile salsa. It's delicious, filling, and inexpensive for the amount of food involved. The rest of the menu looks enchanting, and we'll be back to try more.
Lawrence has brought Austinites a taste treat with his wonderful African cuisine, and the addition of Emilia's Colombian food on the weekends (until she relocates later on) takes the dining experience totally over the top. Do yourself a favor and dine with Lawrence for the little-known flavors of Africa, and if you go on the weekend, order from both menus to get a truly global gourmand's delight.