Dining » Dining Review

African destination

Kontiki charms in Alexander.

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COUSCOUS AND TILAPIA: An entree offered daily at Kontiki.
  • COUSCOUS AND TILAPIA: An entree offered daily at Kontiki.

Been out to Alexander lately?

There's not an awful lot in this tiny town (pop. 2,901, astride the Pulaski and Saline county lines). Maybe you've swung through Alexander on the way to the Bass Pro Shops or the newish outlet mall, a couple of interstate miles away. Perhaps you've name-checked Alexander in the middle of giving directions to somewhere else. Alexander is, like many small towns, rarely thought of as a destination.

With the arrival of Kontiki African Restaurant, owned by Sierra Leonean emigre Christian Domingo, prepare for that to change. It's a place you'll want to plan on finding.

Kontiki is the new occupant of the building that used to house the Alexander Country Cafe, and the exterior still retains the "big front porch" feel of a place more likely to serve biscuits than plantains. The interior is smallish and cozy, with gentle African music and a simple, subdued atmosphere that doesn't overwhelm. Our party of five (four adults, one child) was quickly greeted and seated by the friendly staff.

The Kontiki menu is fairly limited — four appetizers and six entrees — and focuses on cuisine from Sierra Leone. We started with a plate of rice Akara ($2.99 for six), which resemble Arkansas hush puppies but were actually banana fritters made with rice flour and nutmeg, served with a savory side sauce. They were a giant hit with all, but especially with the young one at our table. She was somewhat more skeptical about the fried plaintains ($3.99 for six), served up sweet and hot, but they disappeared quickly with much approval. The roast meat skewers ($5.99 for two), tender beef coated in African spices and a smooth peanut butter, were also delicious and short-lived at our table. The appetizer menu also includes a spicy pepper soup ($5.99 for eight ounces, $7.99 for 16 ounces) offered with russet potatoes, vegetables and either beef or chicken.

West African food is known for being spicy, but our entrees were flavorful without being too hot. The cassava leaves and rice ($13.99, offered Wednesday and Friday-Sunday) were flat-out delicious — spinach-like in consistency and color, prepared with smoked fish, chicken, lima beans and onion, with a side of white rice. We also happily devoured the couscous with tilapia ($12.99, offered daily, also with a chicken option). The nicely seasoned couscous and the fish were accompanied by a somewhat standard side of steamed vegetables.

Our table also ordered Kontiki's Jollof Rice and Stew ($12.99, offered daily), served with white rice and made with beef or chicken, bell peppers, onions, West African spices and tomato paste. The dish was adventurous and hearty, though neither soupy nor traditionally stew-like.

Finally, we sampled up the most ordinary-sounding item on the entree menu, an order of beans and plantains ($9.99, served daily). This consisted of a generous side of sweet plaintains, a bowl of black-eyed peas cooked in palm oil and a side of steamed vegetables. For a simple and relatively inexpensive dish, the beans and plantains were flavorful and filling.

FRIED PLAINTAINS: The dishes of Sierra Leone have come to Alexander.
  • FRIED PLAINTAINS: The dishes of Sierra Leone have come to Alexander.

Other entrees include a traditional Fufu & Okra or Egusi ($13.99, offered Friday-Sunday). Fufu is made by pounding cassava and plaintain flour into a dough-like substance. Kontiki serves its fufu with either okra soup or egusi soup (traditionally made with various African grains, seeds, vegetables and seasonings). Peanut butter soup and rice is offered daily ($12.99) and served with chicken or beef.

Kontiki does not offer alcoholic beverages or dessert, but does serve a house-made ginger beer. This beverage is, happily, nothing like any ginger beer we've purchased from the local grocery store. The Kontiki version is made with freshly ground ginger, cloves, sugar and water, and resembles a somewhat cloudy skim milk. Those who sampled it at our table enjoyed the sweet/ginger combo and agreed that a glass would be far too much for one person to consume alone.

The verdict from our dining party: Alexander is home to a winner. Kontiki is a fine and welcome addition to the Central Arkansas dining scene. While the menu is limited, it consists of tasty choices that we hope will be joined by more selections as the restaurant grows and thrives. Our group looks forward to many return visits soon.

Kontiki African Restaurant
13420 State Hwy. 111 S
Alexander
615-8504
facebook.com/kontikikitchen

Quick bite

Limited menu and seating, and certain entree items are only available on particular days of the week.

Hours

3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Other info

No alcohol.

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