The Bistro That Serves Fufu and Four Fingers

22 Feb

Maima’s Liberian Bistro & Bar
106-47 Guy R. Brewer Blvd,
Jamaica, Queens

After learning that we would be traveling to Jamaica, Queens for our next eating adventure, Zio commented that it was our group’s first outing to that section of Queens. He was excited about it, but he had no idea at the time that before our dinner was over, he would, quite literally, be smothered in affection by the ample and genial, to the extreme, hostess/waitress of Maima’s Liberian Bistro & Bar.

I’m not sure why Zio was looking forward so much to visiting Jamaica. From my initial perspective cruising down Liberty Avenue, there wasn’t much more to it than countless auto glass repair service centers.

And then after passing the York College campus and turning onto Guy R. Brewer Blvd, things got even dicier. The streets had a dangerous aura to them. It wasn’t dark yet, but the area reminded me somewhat of the burnt out street of Baltimore depicted in the television series “The Wire.” The only bright spot on the street was my destination: Maima’s.

Omar coming…for some fufu.

Later, Zio confessed to “late night drives” through the neighborhood; his artistic eye appreciative of the dank, post-apocalyptic look of the place. Of course Zio, observed the neighborhood from the safe confines of his used BMW and, wisely, never got out of the car during those nocturnal excursions.

I was the first to arrive and the first to meet, Janis, the aforementioned hostess. Stevie Wonder was playing on the stereo. There was a small wood paneled bar and African-themed paintings on the wall. We’ve been to many other African restaurants over the years, but this was our first taste of Liberian food. And compared to the other African restaurants, (the late Treichville, Salimata, B&B’s African American Restaurant, and African American Maraway) Maima’s was by far the most “elegant,” thus the inclusion of the word “bistro” in its official name.

The Bistro menu of the day

With the help of one of the few African patrons in the small restaurant, Janis put together three of the tables to make room for our group of six. As soon as I sat down at the extended table, a cold Corona in front of me, Eugene, Mike from Yonkers, and Zio arrived.

After Eugene and Mike from Yonkers also ordered Corona’s, Zio  in as deep and manly a voice as he could muster, said to Janis, “And I’ll take a man-sized Coke.”

His deviation from what the rest of us were ordering and the authoritative way he said it must have stirred something deep inside Janis’s generous soul. Almost instantly there was “chemistry” between the two.

After maneuvering through traffic on the Belt Parkway, Gerry entered followed soon after by Rick. The menus were of the take out variety, but as take out menus go, Maima’s was colorful and printed on thick, glossy paper. Each day there were daily dishes offered. We were there on a Tuesday and had the option of either Spinach or Palm Butter, but by the time we were ready to order, Palm Butter had been erased from the chalkboard.

Besides the daily offerings, fufu & soup was available along with fresh fish, “fried, toasted, or steamed.” In fact, fufu, the ball of doughy, beaten (literally) down version of cassava, was available with everything, as we soon found out. The soup was pepper soup, that, according to Janis, was a mélange of meats; chicken and beef, and seafood along with a big pale ball of fufu.

We started with appetizers of roast meat and chicken on skewers, and pepper shrimp. The shrimp was smothered in a thick, burnt red paste. “Be careful,“ Janis warned, “the shrimp is spicy.”

Pepper shrimp

Gluttons for heat, we scoffed at her warnings and dug in. I tried peeling the shrimp but gave up, eating the thing whole. Before I got more than two bites in, however, I was overcome by an uncontrollable attack of the hiccups; a sign that I’ve surpassed my body’s spice index. Sucking down ice water, the hiccups subsided and maybe that I’d already numbed my lips and the lining of my throat; I was able to continue to eat the fiery shrimp.

Janis brought Gerry and Rick their “spinach” entrees. The spinach was served chopped in a bowl with bits of meats and seafood throughout. From what I sampled, those bits were more tiny pieces of meat attached to small bones. The spinach also came, of course, with a ball of fufu as did the pepper soup that Eugene and I were having.

Maima’s spinach

I was about to try the fufu when Janis rushed to my side and added a dollop of the same peppery paste that was on the shrimp to the otherwise bland fufu. I used my hand to break apart the dense ball of fufu and added a small amount of the pepper sauce for flavor.

Fufu with a dollop of pepper sauce.

And then I turned my attention to the soup where a four-fingered hand or foot, I couldn’t tell, was jutting from. So life-like was this appendage that if I dared look closer I might have spotted fingernails or maybe knuckle hair. But for that reason, I kept my distance from it.

The broth was indeed peppery, but mild compared to the hiccup-inducing shrimp. Inside the broth, along with the appendage, were pieces of tripe, gelatinous beef tendon, small pieces of chicken on the bone and even smaller blue crab bits.

Waiter, there’s a hand in my soup.

With fork and knife, Mike from Yonkers delicately began the dissection of his “toasted” fish which, translated, meant that it was grilled while Zio’s approach to his fried fish was more primitive; pulling apart flesh from bone with his palm oil stained fingers. “What kind of fish is it?” I asked him.

“The fresh kind,” he muttered without looking up, his mouth partially stuffed with food.

Fish and fufu

It was about then when Zio noticed Janis bringing a bagged order to a customer waiting outside. Along with presenting him with his order, she gave the customer an overly friendly hug. When she returned, Zio, wiped the grease from his lips.  “I’m a little jealous now,” he said to her.

With that, she grinned, went behind him, wrapped her defensive lineman-like arms around him and began to smother him with affection. Thankfully, Zio had completely drunk the man-sized Coke to keep his now overworked heart stimulated otherwise we might have had to rush him to nearby Jamaica Hospital.

Rick was moaning as well, but not because of an outpouring of affection. The fufu had done him in. “I think it might be expanding in my stomach,” he said of the half ball of fufu he had already ingested.

Still we had to try the rice bread; a sweetened piece of cake that tasted like banana bread and was made, I presume from rice flour and bananas.

Rice bread

Our experience at Maima’s was certainly memorable even if the food did not quite make it to the top of our self-monitored charts. My only regret was that we never got to try the palm butter special.

“Next time you come, you can call ahead and they’ll hold it for you,” Janis said.

“Who do I call?”

“Just call Mama,” was her glowing response.

7 Responses to “The Bistro That Serves Fufu and Four Fingers”

  1. Gregory Lorenz February 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    You must have know that the ‘four finger’ in your bowl was a chicken foot. We’re rather fond of them chez Lorenz. You should have saved it for us!

  2. Nara May 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    I would like to know what ingredients do you use to make the rice bread brown or dark

  3. Nara May 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    What ingredients is in the rice bread to make it dark

  4. 1sammiev January 5, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    I’ve been to Maima’s twice in a month as a 1st time customer & I love everything about the restaurant! The atmosphere is nice & small but spacious enough to have privacy in your seating area, the customer service is great, & the food is excellent… Literally everything on the menu so you can’t go wrong! I’d come more often to Queens but I come from Manhattan to visit but its worth it every time. Authentic Liberian food is waiting for you at Maima’s 😉

  5. Neckbones January 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    I’ve got to get back there this winter for some “hot” food.


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