Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nigerian restaurant favorite of African food fans

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When you walk into De Ranch the first thing you see is a counter at front and a few table and chairs, but if you look to the left or right, you’ll see there is more than meets the eye. To the left, there is space for dining with booths and to the right there is a room used for banquets and events.

Just as the space is larger than it appears to be, the restaurant itself is more than it appears to be. It serves as a place to eat and a kind of crossroads for members of the African diaspora.

The menu at De Ranch has African, Caribbean and American dishes. African dishes include Cassava leaf soup, served with goat, fish or chicken ($9.99 and $10.99). If you like Caribbean food, they have favorites like curry and jerk chicken ($7.99 and $8.99). For $6.99 you can choose among American standards like baked and fried chicken, or a sandwich (chicken, fish, steak and cheese, cheeseburger) with fries. Portions are generous and the staff is pleasant.

Cecilia Registe, who decided to pop in with a friend, said, ‘‘The people are friendly.” As if to prove this point, an employee came out to front counter to say that she had the same first name when she heard Registe give hers, and the two laughed over having something in common.

Registe, who is from Dominique, asked about trying a taste of the jolof rice, something she’d never had and the staff was happy to oblige. Jolof rice is an African rice dish that can vary in different regions, but the basic recipe calls for rice flavored with tomatoes or tomato paste, onion and spices.

Most dinners are offered with a choice of plantains and white rice, rice and peas or the jolof rice which Registe sampled and said she’d try next time she came.

De Ranch’s owner, Pascal Agwubuzo, a native of Nigeria, came to the United States in 1981 and saw there was a need for more eating establishment to cater to the African and Caribbean communities.

The name ‘‘De Ranch” is the English translation of a Nigerian phrase that refers to food that came from farmland. In Agwubuzo’s homeland the phrase carries with it the idea of food that is wholesome and fresh.

‘‘Most of our food is natural and medicinal,” said Agwubuzo, and he cites the pepper soup ($5.99) as an example of this. The hot and spicy soup can quickly clear congestion, but it is not for the weak. Also, the onugbo (bitter leaf soup, $14.99) is rich in greens and high in vitamin C.

The kitchen at De Ranch aims to keep its customers healthy, so they remove excess grease and fat from their meats.

There are also delicacies that are hard to find elsewhere, like the ishi ehu (goat head, $22) or nkwobi (cow foot, $10). For both of these dishes the main course is cooked down and marinated in palm oil and spices.

The restaurant caters for weddings, special events, birthdays, and it has a banquet room for on-site celebrations. They also do what Agwubuzo likes to call, ‘‘food support for busy professionals.”

With a sly smile, he explains that some people will buy large quantities of food to place in their own pots and present it as homemade.

De Ranch does more than provide food, as its owner notes, the restaurant also serves as a ‘‘community connecting point” for Africans, especially Nigerians from the varying states and government associations within that country.

Dignitaries from Africa who visit the Washington, D.C. area make it a point to dine at De Ranch. They are also equipped to show sports programs live from West Africa.

Although the restaurant wants to keep people in touch with the African community at home and abroad, Agwubuzo would not mind seeing some unfamiliar faces.

‘‘We’d like to attract more non-Africans to try our food,” he said.

De Ranch Restaurant and Carry Out

3511 Maryland Ave.,Landover; 301-773-5444

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, noon to 11 p.m.