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Bites Nearby: Mina West African and Caribbean Kitchen

Each week Patch takes a look at a nearby restaurant that is worth checking out. This week's choice is Mina West African and Caribbean Kitchen.

I got the idea to try Mina West African and Caribbean Kitchen after having a long chat with Bruno Kalonji of Kalonji's Bakery in Stone Mountain about his years in Zaire. I asked Kalonji about some of his favorite dishes and he mentioned cassava leaves. He couldn't stop singing the praises of them, and explained the interesting way they're prepared.

I was intrigued.

Kalonji actually recommended another restaurant on Memorial Drive, but I happened upon Mina first. So I stopped in.

Mina is one of those understated places that's in a small shopping strip next to a laundrymat. You don't go for the decor, you don't care that a prison movie on BET is playing on the television. You're there for the variety of offerings from places such as Liberia, Togo, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

The cassava leaves cooked with onions, peppers, and sauteed in palm oil jumped out at me when I opened the menu; I ordered them from a friendly, attentive young lady with a soft accent. In addition to rice, the cassava leaves also came with meats, including hen and beef. I was told there was no dry fish that day but the dish usually comes with that, too. I also ordered a side of fried plantains.

When the cassava leaves arrived, they looked nothing like how I'd imagined. They were very dark and the consistency was much, much softer than I thought they would be. I wasn't familiar with the taste of the golden-colored palm oil they were cooked in, either. But I was ready to try.

I started to eat everything separately, then saw other patrons mixing the leaf with the rice, so I did the same. It was the right move.

The leaves were fairly mild, yet very hearty, especially with the richness of the palm oil and chunks of meat. The accompanying pepper sauce was a bit much for me - I immediately got the hiccups from sampling just a little -- but it could grow on me. It added a nice hot punch to the food. I'm glad it comes in a separate container.

I really liked incorporating the fried plantains, too. I'm not sure that's how it's usually done, but the sweet mixed with the savory hit the spot.

The cassava leaf dish was $12. Many menu items range from $8-$12.

Mina also prepares spinach greens and collard greens, palava sauce and rice, Toborgee and rice, and much more.

If you've never had West African or Caribbean cuisine, Mina, which is located at 5439 Memorial Dr. in Stone Mountain, is a good place to try. I'm looking forward to returning. The phone numbers listed on its web site are 404-297-0470 and 404-508-9691.

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