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Good Liberian dinner at Maima's in Jamaica (review)

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Came across this thread:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/638239

on the "What's my craving" board last week and have been wanting to go since. I finally tried it last night and it was very good!

We took the E train out to Jamaica Center/Archer Ave and walked for about 10 mins. to the restaurant. It is on a quiet section of the street just past York College. There was no one there when we arrived around 8:30pm and the owner told us most of the dishes had sold out earlier.

I was pretty disappointed since the menu had some very interesting items that I wanted to try, such as Home made Ginger Beer, Jollof Rice, Cassava Leaf, and Pepper Crab. She listed a few items that were still available and we ordered Plava Sauce served with FuFu and Fish with Gravy served with Rice. I was not expecting much thinking we are getting the leftovers of the day. But I was wrong.

The Plava Sauce was excellent! It is a stew made with okra leaves and an assortment of meats (I looked this up after I got home). I think there was smoked turkey, chicken and ham hock in there. A small dish of potent home made crushed hot pepper sauce accompanied it. I am still salivating thinking about this dish today.

The Fish with Gravy was also very good. It was two small fried fish (beware on bones) in a yummy red sauce which I think was made of peppers, onions and tomatoes. I could not really tell what was in the sauce but it was not very tomato-y though it was red, perhaps red peppers? In any case I really enjoyed it.

The portions were big and we were too full to have anything else so I can't say anything about their desserts. The total for the two dishes above, 20 bucks.

After our meal we chatted with the owner's daughter who runs the salon next door. She told us Liberian stews are typically made with an assortment of meats and are generally very spicy. They tone it down for those who are not Liberian, but serve the hot sauce on the side.

I highly recommend this place and will definitely go back. It is not an entirely smoothly run operation but the place is clean and comfortable, the prices very reasonable and the food was very good.

A few other things I noticed on the menu:

Toborge
Palm Butter
Kalla
Chickey Gravy
Rice Bread
Fried Okra
Careless Green
Kiliwila

Maima's Liberian Bistro and Bar
106-47 Guy R Brewer Blvd
718-206-3538

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  1. My wife and I hit this place for take-out this evening, and loved it.

    Maima's is a cozy, clean and charming little storefront on a stretch of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard that's a few blocks south of York College, and just a tad further away - as ferdia stated - from the Jamaica Avenue/Parsons/Archer hub. It's done up, sparingly, with some African masks and paintings on the walls, and has a nice, light and airy feng shui happening. When we walked in, two tables were occupied with happy-looking diners. The owner's daughter was very pleasant, gracious and helpful, and, as was the case with the OP, gave us a crack course on Liberian cuisine. As far as ordering goes, we put ourselves in her capable hands, and then waited about 20 minutes as the owner cooked our food, which we promptly whisked home and scarfed down with a sloppy, happy abandon.

    Here's the rundown:

    - Palm Butter: Slow-cooked assortment of fall-off-the-bone, fork-tender beef, chicken, cowfeet, crab, collagen and fish, stewed in oils extracted from the palm nut with lots of herbs mixed in. This was basically love in a pot, slow-cooked, tender, delicious. Juices run from everywhere into everything. I'd order it again in a heartbeat.

    - Pepper Soup: Pepper shrimp, pepper crab, skin-on chicken and a whole chicken's foot in a wonderful pepper broth that has just the right amount of kick. It warmed me through and through.

    - Pepper Shrimp: As a seafood item, this is probably best eaten immediately as opposed to take-out. It was still good. Full-bodied shrimp with a mild kick and full flavor. You can specify spice levels according to taste when ordering, but it also comes with a hot sauce that is best used sparingly - it has the capacity to numb the tastebuds.

    - Home-made ginger beer and fruit punch: Maima's ginger beer is hardly like the carbonated stuff you're likely to get at a corner grocery. Light, opaque yellow in color, it is pure ginger in liquid form, with just a hint of sweetness. It seems as if the dark-purple fruit punch was also made using ginger, but had more of a balance. The former is more medicinal in nature, the latter more refreshing. I dug both.

    - Grapefruit Delight (dessert): To the naked eye, this resembles rice pudding. It's more milky, however, not overly sweet, with shredded grapefruit swimming in the drink. This made for a nice, light and refreshing pallette cleanser.

    Pre-tip, all this wonderful stuff cost 31 bucks.

    Maima's serves the kind of food I love. You feel like you're eating stick-to-your-ribs stuff in someone's kitchen. As the sign says, this is soul food, and damned good soul food at that. Guy R. Brewer hasn't had eats like this since Carmichael's Diner closed. And, just like that legendary soul food venue did back in the day, these guys are going to start having live music on the weekends (starting on 1/29, I believe - call for details).

    I've taken long subway rides to Harlem and Brooklyn to eat Senegalese and to hang out in Ghana-style chop bars, so, for me, this fare, when good, is well worth the effort. I'm lucky enough to be 15 minutes away by car, 1/2 hour by subway, but, if I lived in Brighton Beach or Riverdale, I'd be plotting trips to Maima's for sure. As it stands, I look forward to trying their fried chicken, cassava & fish gravy and a breakfast special that consists of fried egg, cheese, meat and tomato on a slice of African bread.

    Score one for Jamaica, Queens.
    P.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Polecat

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I missed ferdia's post but luckily caught yours. Sounds great. Asked DH if he wanted to have Liberian food in Jamaica. Got the "Are you serious look?" from him (he doesn't really like to travel unless it's worth it). I then mentioned your description of the palm butter and he quickly changed his mind and sounded very enthusiastic. It will probably be a while as both of our stomachs are recovering a bit from traveling. But it is definitely on my radar.

      1. re: Miss Needle

        They don't serve the Palm Butter every day, so best to call before you go.
        P.

        1. re: Polecat

          Good to know. Thanks for the tip.

    2. Swung over to Maima's again yesterday, and had another bowl of the Pepper Soup. I can't stress enough how good this stuff is. Anyone who is into West African cuisine owes it to themselves to make the trip for the Pepper Soup alone. The broth is deeply flavorful, with a hell of a spicy kick - the kind that clears your sinuses and, quite honestly, verges on the painful and unpleasant. Word to the wise: get a side order of white rice to cut the heat somewhat. It's worth it for that amazing broth. This is also a one-pot meal that's good for the soul. Everything that's good about life is in that bowl: crab, huge chunks of both bone-on and boneless chicken, collagen, beef and, a huge, light green pepper right in the middle. I'm usually not big on shellfish, but it's a singular sensation to suck the crab juices and broth out of the broken crab shells. This soup is not for the dainty. It's more like a messy viking meal - you'll be grabbing paper napkins off the other tables. I also highly recommend the amazing ginger beer, which is probably best enjoyed after, not during, a spicy meal, as it packs a pure ginger kick of its' own. The fruit punch, which I downed in the car on the way to work, is also excellent and very refreshing. Other dishes, such as their breakfasts, their chicken and fish gravies and their Toborge, await.
      P.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Polecat

        I went on Saturday at 7pm and was almost heartbroken. When my friend and I walked in, the hostess just stared at us from across the room for several moments. Finally, I approached her and asked if we may dine there. She replied 'no' and that she was completely out of food. It was a very odd exchange, considering that there were 3 other diners with copious amounts of food. My friend wanted to leave, but I was frozen with incomprehensibility. I expressed my disappointment to the lady, stressing that I had trekked all the way from Woodside in the downpour. Finally, she divulged that she only had fufu. I replied that I'd love to try the fufu, as long as she could arrange for some soup to accompany it. She finally cracked a smile and said 'of course.'

        We were served just one order of fufu with what I presume is the pepper soup, along with a side plate of sesame powder, two okras and a scotch bonnet. As others have noted, it was fantastic. My lips were on fire through most of the meal. I had assumed it was from the soup and scotch bonnet, but it was actually due to the power of the ginger beer.

        It's probably best to visit this place for lunch or a very early dinner, so that more choices are available. One thing that hasn't been pointed out is that they seem to have a set menu for each day. Here's what I gathered:

        Mon
        Collard greens
        Fish gravy and chuck rice

        Tue
        Spinach
        Palm butter

        Wed
        Cassava leaf
        Eggplant

        Thu
        Careless green (leaf of calaloo plant)
        Plava sauce

        Fri
        Seafood day (a changing selection)
        Fried okra
        Palm butter

        Sat
        Fufu & soup (can also be served with pepper soup, okra, palva sauce or palm butter)
        Cassava leaf

        Sun
        Potatoes green
        Cabbage
        Toborge (seed of the kititle plant)

        -----
        Maima's
        106-47 Guy R Brewer Blvd, Queens, NY 11433

        1. re: Joe MacBu

          Wow. Sorry about that, Joe. That's very, very strange for a Saturday night. Strange behavior, too. When you say the "hostess", was it a young woman or an older one. I'd be less surprised if it were the older woman, the one whom I presume to be Maima, the chef. She's one for few words, but nice. The younger one, whom I think is the daughter, was very talkative the first time we went, also around the time you did. Regarding West African places in general, I've found it's best to call. Regardless of what's on the menu, or should be, it never hurts to call and ask, or to order in advance. I'm glad you got served - sounds like you dug the Pepper Soup.
          p.

          1. re: Polecat

            It was the older woman.

            To clarify, it was the initial exchanges that were rather uncomfortable. After we were seated, she became rather friendly, as did the male chef. Even patrons who arrived later (and were promptly served fufu) were gregarious towards us.

            I won't hesitate to return, but caveat emptor.

          2. re: Joe MacBu

            Your review + polecat is the reason I came to this Resturant thank you and polecat .

        2. thanks for the recent updates all; sounds great!