Yesterday the high temperature in Monrovia, Liberia was 83. Queens was substantially hotter than West Africa, the mercury hit 97. And the heat from the pepper shrimp ($12) at Maima’s Liberian Bistro was at the same constant lip-blazing level it always is, approximately Fahrenheit 451. Maima’s is my type of place. The city’s only Liberian eatery is presided over the grandmotherly Maima. Many of the restaurant’s patrons call her mama.It’s a place I don’t get to often enough. The last time I was there was to film the Queens episode of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, “World’s Best Food Town” which airs this coming Monday at 9 p.m. EST on Travel Channel. So when my pal Anne Marie Cruz of Sandwich Surprise asked me to have lunch there I was psyched.”You know some of the dishes are pretty spicy,”I warned her via e-mail.
The last time I was at Maima’s was in the dead of winter. Zimmern and I shared a pepper crab and shrimp combo ($20). Upon the first bite his eyes went wide and he said something to the effect of “That . . . is . . . spicy.” We both found it absolutely incendiary yet couldn’t stop eating it. Anne Marie and I had much the same experience with the pepper shrimp yesterday. Coated in a thick gravy that seems to made from cooked down Scotch bonnets and little else they left my lips burning. Despite all the heat, the sweetness of the shrimp shone through. I chose to eat with my hands, taking care not to touch my eyes as I mopped the sweat from my brow.
We also had fufu and soup ($11). The soup bobbed with a chicken foot, cow foot and some crab. Along with the fufu—a not unpleasant mash made from plantain flour—it was a great counterpoint to the blazing hot shrimp. To round things out we also had a lovely dish of cassava leaf ($11) cooked to the consistency of creamed spinach and riddled with bits of cow feet and smoked turkey. Maima served the lot with a small ramekin of chopped Scotch bonnets and vinegar. It was thoroughly unnecessary.This did not prevent me from slathering some on a shrimp.
As we left Anne Marie turned to Maima and said, “Thanks Mama, everything was delicious.”
Maima’s Liberian Bistro, 106-38 Guy R.Brewer Blvd., Jamaica, 718-206-3538