Burkina Faso is not on most Baltimoreans' culinary radar. But thanks to Ramatou "Mina" Fofana and her Delights by Mina, which opened in downtown Baltimore in August, that's changing.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked West African country bordered by Mali and Niger to the north and the Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin and Ghana to the south. Like many of its neighbors, Burkina Faso was at one point a French colony.
Burkinabe cuisine includes chicken and lamb stews, often flavored with curry, spices and peanuts, and starches like yams and rice. Fofana's menu includes these dishes and reflects the country's French heritage — and the several years she spent studying in France. She serves a variety of crepes (and has recently opened a sister location, Crepes by Mina, in the new Mount Vernon Marketplace).
The menu's introduction to the country's food is tasty and accessible. Foodies will enjoy an underrepresented cuisine, but the less adventurous will find the dishes sound more exotic than they taste.
Scene & Decor Delights by Mina's downtown location, surrounded by office buildings, is busier during the week than on the weekends. During our Saturday afternoon visit, the streets were quiet and the restaurant drew just a handful of customers.
With high ceilings and gray walls covered in bright, African-inspired murals, the space felt roomy and fun.
As soon as we walked in, the manager greeted us with a sunny "hello" from behind a podium. She explained that because it was Saturday, our options included the buffet and a small menu of crepes.
Delights by Mina is open for lunch seven days a week and for dinner on the first Friday of each month (more frequent dinner hours are in the works). The buffet is available Thursday through Sunday; Monday through Wednesday, the restaurant offers an a la carte menu.
Entrees The buffet ($12.99) changes on a daily basis. During our visit, it included three main dishes — chicken in peanut sauce, chicken curry, and generous, bone-in lamb shanks — plus two types of rice, couscous, a crunchy vegetable mix including broccoli and cabbage, and savory cheesesteak-stuffed crepes.
The rice didn't taste fresh, but the three meats were terrific.
Both types of chicken were cooked nicely and doused in thoughtfully constructed sauces. The peanut, in particular, was captivating. A little sweet and a little salty, it was interesting and approachable.
The lamb was lightly seasoned and did not have a sauce; it didn't need one. The piece of meat was gorgeous, tender and not the least bit gamy.
The cheesesteak crepe was a fun surprise. We weren't sure the combination would work, but the meat proved a good match. It was tender, well-seasoned and more herbaceous than we expected.
From the crepes menu, the French Classic ($7.50) was fantastic. One enormous, pillowy crepe was folded over, stuffed with Gruyere and large chunks of salty ham, folded again, then cut into gooey cheese-and-meat-filled triangles.
A side of fried plantains ($2) was also a crispy, sweet (and very hot) treat.
Drinks Delights by Mina allows BYOB with no corkage fee. Fountain drinks were included in the price of the buffet.
Dessert We didn't spy any dessert options during our visit, though we didn't miss them. The plantains, with their sweet centers, were sugary enough.
Service The small Saturday crowd at Delights by Mina was served by a bare-bones staff. In addition to the manager manning the front counter, we spotted just a small kitchen staff, including a gentleman who prepared our crepe, with great care, in the open kitchen space at the back of the restaurant. Everyone we spoke with was friendly and helpful; the manager anticipated our questions from the start, providing us information with a smile.
Trying a new cuisine — especially one as underrepresented as Burkina Faso's — can be an intimidating thing. But Delights by Mina, with its smiling staff and excellent food, made trying something new a comfortable adventure.