By Laurie Balliett
Wicked Local Cape Cod
Posted Apr 20, 2013 @ 06:38 AM
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Monkey ribs have nothing to do with monkeys at Karoo, the new South African restaurant that opened Easter weekend in Eastham’s Main Street Mercantile. In fact, they actually are St. Louis pork ribs cooked in Karoo’s own “monkey gland” sauce.
“I even put on the menu, “No monkeys were harmed in this sauce,” says owner and chef Sanette Groenewald.
Monkey gland sauce is a common name of a South African barbecue sauce that comes from the history of a South African Dutch ruler, so finicky that one day his chef threw everything in his kitchen together to please him, poured it over the ruler’s dinner, and told him it was called “monkey gland sauce,” explains Groenewald, who grew up in the “Little Karoo,” on the outskirts of Great Karoo in South Africa, a region that resembles northern New Mexico in its climate. “It’s an old name for something like A-1 steak sauce, here,” she explains.
Groenewald also runs Karoo Kafe in Provincetown, a 20-seat restaurant.
Karoo’s menu offers a fusion of Dutch, Malay, Indian, British, Mediterranean and African fare. The dishes range from exotic meats like ostrich and snail, to vegetarian and gluten free offerings. There are fun-sounding names like Peri Peri, an African-Portugese spiced tomato based sauce and Bunny Chow, a South African fast food consisting of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry that “does not contain bunnies;” assured Groenewald. Bobotie, a slang term for meat loaf, and in this case, is Groenewald’s mother’s recipe for a mild, soft curried ground beef.
Her family is seventh generation South African of Dutch-German descent. She grew up on the family farm. After studying food service management, she traveled around Europe, returned to Karoo, and worked in a restaurant there where she met an American business couple from Brooklyn who she stayed with in New York City for three days when she first arrived in the U.S., in 1995. Just before she was scheduled to begin working at a restaurant in New York, she visited Provincetown one weekend. That was also an Easter weekend. “Cape Cod had the safety and secure feeling I wanted,” she says. She decided to stay.
When she opened the first location of Karoo in Provincetown in 2002, it was one of only two South African restaurants in the United States, with the other in Brooklyn. Now, Groenewald says, there are a few more in New York, and some on the West Coast.
The cafe took a few years to get up and running. “I knew South African food well, and there was not a lot of ethnic food in Ptown,” she says of her decision to open it. “There was Ethiopian, and Sudanese, but not South African.” Around her fourth year of running Karoo Kafe, “Oprah began raving about South Africa, and the World Cup went to South Africa,” circumstances that helped boost Karoo Kafe’s success.
“The South African curries and spices lend itself to go from chicken to tofu and vegetarian,” she notes. She can make things that might normally have flour with cornstarch or potato to make them gluten free.
The Eastham restaurant has become popular already, consistently serving 170 to 200 people each night since it opened. The community has just been amazing,” she says. She had to order more Cape Cod Beer after the first weekend, and is slowly building her full bar. Customers are raving about the West African Peanut Soup.
“We’ve already had repeat customers two or three times since we opened,” says Groenewald.
Walking through the doors of Karoo, visitors feel transported to South Africa. The walls are painted in reds and golds, one with carefully hand painted fishnet covering it. The entry is a market place with bottles of Karoo’s brand spices and sauces, along with African dolls, mobiles, Rooibos (Red Bush) tea and other trinkets displayed on polished pallets.
Karoo’s location has been the site of many a restaurant. The two-story building at the rear of the Mercantile complex sat vacant for more than two years.
“Every one tells us this building is cursed. This place isn’t cursed. They don’t look at the bones,” says owner Groenewald. “Give it some love, get rid of the squirrels, and life will be good.”
She and Elyssa Cohen are giving it the love it needs to break such a curse. They pulled up the carpet, hand-painted the walls, sanded down the bar and covered it with vinyl-covered wallpaper with a pattern of ostriches, fish, and antelope.
“The pattern is called, ‘Korogho’,” says Groenewald. “It means ‘abundance.’”
If you go…
Where: 3 Main Street Mercantile, Unite 32B, Route 6, Eastham
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 4-9 p.m.; seven days a week in summer.
Info: 508-255-8288, www.karoorestaurants.com