Lexington, KY – The South Limestone business corridor has a nice diversity of independent restaurants and other businesses that should not be overlooked, especially during the estimated year-long construction closure while the street undergoes a major overhaul. A prime example of one of these businesses is Sav’s Grill and West African Cuisine (www.savsgrill.com) located at 304 South Limestone, near the corner of Maxwell Street. This restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and for lunch and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sav’s Grill will celebrate its one-year anniversary on September 26 and will also be launching a new menu around that time. However, the story of this restaurant goes back much further. Mamadou “Sav” Savane grew up in the West African nation of Guinea and learned how to cook by keenly observing his mother and sisters. He met his wife, Rachel, while she was in Guinea serving as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1990 to 1993. They married, moved to Lexington and started a family.
Rachel Savane was the first of the two to take the entrepreneurial plunge by capitalizing on her BFA degree in crafts/metals from the University of Illinois and launching her business, Savane Silver (www.savanesilver.com), to sell one-of-a-kind jewelry. Meanwhile Mamadou worked at UPS and frequently entertained friends by preparing and grilling food in the Guinea tradition, further honing his culinary skills. Eventually he too took that entrepreneurial leap and opened up Sav’s Grill and West African Cuisine, which was the first West African restaurant in Lexington.
The menu is appealingly simple, and the food is healthy and flavorful with a comfort food appeal. One of the challenges of introducing a new ethnic cuisine to any area is educating customers and potential customers about the food. What I have often found is menu items are more familiar than one would initially think, being analogous to American items but with different names, ingredients or flavors. Like all countries, the cuisine of Guinea is influenced by its history and geography. Being a country with a coast, it has been influenced by many immigrants and the availability of a variety of ingredients. Many cultures have traded with and/or exercised influence over the country (France, Spain, Portugal and multiple Arab nations). Plantain, rice, meat and other dishes with unique tastes are common fare in Guinea due to its geography and growing conditions.
One example of this is a popular Sav’s menu item call fufu, which can be substituted for rice and is served with a variety of sauces. Fufu is made from dried plantains and is traditional staple food of West and Central Africa. Another way of looking at fufu is as a great-tasting dumpling that can be flavor enhanced with sauces, toppings and the like.
Another example is the attieke salad (pronounced “kay kay”). While the name of the salad may be unfamiliar to most, it is basically a couscous made from cassava and tossed with fresh salad ingredients and Sav’s vinaigrette. Cassava is a root plant, and no continent depends more on root and tuber plants for feedings its population than Africa. Cassava is said to be the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world. The attieke salad dish at Sav’s Grill is a great looking and healthy alternative for a meat-free meal option.
The Mafen Beef is a savory tasting meat and vegetable dish with a sauce served over rice (or fufu). You can also get a vegetable version of this dish. Back to familiarity, one way of looking at this menu item is that it is a West African version of that good, old-fashioned, comfort food standby: vegetable beef stew.
On Fridays and Saturdays Savane serves his version of baby back ribs. Other familiar items include a Cornish hen entrÈe, cheese grits and Valentine’s ice cream.
Like many local independent restaurateurs, Savane strives to use local ingredients. He grows his own habanero peppers and purchases locally grown products, such as goat and lamb. Some unique ingredients are required to ensure his recipes are authentic and are purchased through specialty suppliers. Sav’s Grill is a member of Local First Lexington (www.localfirstlexington.com). If you join Sav’s Grill and West African Cuisine on Facebook, you will receive periodic notification of specials. This establishment is within walking distance from both downtown and the UK campus. Give it a try and support these South Limestone businesses, but especially during this construction overhaul period. A redesigned Limestone corridor with well-supported businesses will bring long-term benefits for us all.