Maima's in the Kitchen
Queens is indisputably the top borough when it comes to ethnic food options, but one does not normally think of Jamaica as a foodie destination neighborhood. But when I learned that Jamaica was home to a Liberian restaurant a visit seemed most definitely in order. So, on a recent Friday afternoon I took the E train to the end of the line and hooked up with fellow blogger Dave Cook for an early dinner at Maima's.
I know very little about Liberia. I know that the country was founded as a back-to-Africa movement for freed slaves. I know that many Liberians have English-sounding names, like Charles Taylor. I know that Liberia has had a troubled history of corrupt leaders, like Charles Taylor. I know that the capital, Monrovia, is named for James, not Earl. And I recently learned that while Liberian cooking has much overlap with other West African cuisines there's a particular fondness for hot spice in Liberia.
I was expecting a simple, hole-in-the-wall, but Maima's is cozy and tastefully decorated, giving it a very comfortable atmosphere. Maima, very much the matriarch, took our order, cooked our food and served it. When two food bloggers get together for a meal it's inevitable that too much food would be ordered. Though some dishes were listed as appetizers and some as main courses, the distinction is not particularly relevant, and you'll likely be served everything together.
We ordered the two stews of the day, okra and the artery-clogging palm butter, served with white rice. Both were cooked with a combination of crab (which seems to be a major ingredient in Liberian cooking), chicken and shrimp. An incendiary hot sauce was served on the side. The okra was cooked in a way that broke it down and mitigated some of the vegetable's mucilaginous (Dave's chosen word) consistency. The palm butter was scary rich, and is probably best shared among four or more.
The pepper shimp was fiery and delicious: fresh shrimp in the shell with a red pepper coating that was reminiscent of similar dishes from Sri Lanka and South India, only this was hotter. Our fried plantains were delightfully soft, hot, sweet and gooey. The homemade lemonade was way too sweet for my taste, and I was disappointed that the fresh ginger beer was not ready.
Unless you live nearby it's a trek, to be sure. But it's not far from JFK airport, so you might want to consider combining an international flight with a Liberian dinner some day.
106-47 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.
(trivia: Guy R. Brewer Blvd. is named for the state assemblyman who was instrumental in developing Jamaica as a "suburban" black neighborhood in the 1940s)