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Ma-Musu's West African Cuisine provides a magical mystery tour for your tastebuds. 

A Tasty Trip

Ma-Musu's West African Cuisine
2043 W. Broad St.
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
355-8063

Ida M. Daniels, the owner, cook and spiritual guide of Ma-Musu's West African Cuisine, wouldn't reveal just how she made the spinach. I asked three times, first gently hinting, then teasing and then asking more boldly.

The dish she had put before us was comfort food of the highest order, food for the gods, in fact, aromatic and steaming, and unbelievably flavorful. African spices, she said, seasoned the best spinach I'd ever tasted. What, precisely, I queried. A little rosemary, she offered quietly over her shoulder as she turned back to the kitchen. I couldn't detect the rosemary or confidently identify anything other than a tease of pepper in the chicken that studded a plate full of jewellike leaves.

Asking more pointedly for guidance, she sweetly replied "If I tell you my secrets, you won't come back for more." Ah. Not so. Whatever magic she makes in the kitchen, I'm certain that even if she wrote it all down for me, I couldn't possibly recreate it at home.

We had driven around the block three times before deciding to stop at this unassuming little place in the 2000 block of Broad across from Pleasants Hardware. A half-dozen two-tops crowd the dining area. A close little place without frills, it is impeccably tidy.

No alcohol is served and we read over the Xeroxed menu while sipping ginger iced tea, an orange and mango drink and a fruity pineapple juice served in huge plastic tumblers. The refreshing and fragrant drinks were lovely on a hot summer's night.

The menu is limited but nicely balanced with three soups, including a Liberian Pepper Soup (an African gumbo) served with plantain dumplings, and a spicy split pea soup offered with shredded smoked turkey. Five vegetarian offerings sell for $5 each and a side of plantains or collards goes for $1.50.

The value is high on every item, all of which are priced in the $4 to $7 range and are served with rice or collards.

The heat of Ma-Musu's West African flavors resembles Caribbean attentions to fiery seasonings. African cuisine is known for the complexity of its peppers. The Kpadi wings, Ma-Musu warned us, were fire-filled but we managed — with sips of our fruity drinks — to enjoy every morsel. I detected a hint of ginger and red pepper on the saucy chicken.

A huge portion of Jerk Turkey — served with white rice — was familiar. Again, Ma-Musu wouldn't reveal her secrets. Yet, I suspect that she uses the jerk — a combination that generally includes chiles, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and onions — to marinate the meat rather than as a rub. The turkey was moist in a clinging sauce, and the preparation is reminiscent of pulled barbecue.

Compared to these dishes, Toywah beans were fit for a baby's palate. The mild and subtle combination of dainty red beans and generous chunks of smoked turkey was held together in a simple sauce advertised as "Ma Musu's Special Sauce." Indeed, it was. Again, she wouldn't share the specifics.

Afrique kabob was composed of good quality, nicely trimmed baked beef presented over rice. For a restaurant that sells its wares in the cheap-eats price range, the quality of the cuts and the generosity of the servings are noteworthy.

Still, the spinach — look for Spinach Our Way on the menu — was our favorite at this African banquet. The Other Half and I fork-fenced over the last bite.

Daniels, whose family nickname, in an African tradition, is Ma-Musu, moved to the States from Liberia in 1980 and to Richmond in 1986 where, after a stint with the Marriott, let loose her entrepreneurial muse and formed several businesses devoted to the culture, fashion and, now, foods of Africa. She plans soon to expand into adjoining space so that she can accommodate sit-down dining for 75.

I wish her well. I wish my office were closer so I could swing by for carry-out lunches and dinners with regularity. I wish she'd bottle her secret spices and sell them. I wish others would discover a little bit of her
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