Spiciest Dish in Columbus Series: Afra Grill
“African inspired, American made,” Afra Grill brings a new flavor to Flavortown, OH.
In our quest to branch further out into the spicy realms of Central Ohio, we found ourselves at Afra Grill, located on Morse Road, east of 71. It’s an unassuming exterior, but the inside is nice and bright, with yellow and black paint lining the walls, creating a welcoming environment. Intentional or not (likely just coincidental), it’s almost a nod to the Columbus Crew and their core colors. The logo on the door even resembles the Crew SC logo somewhat. Regardless, I didn’t feel lost or like an outsider when I wandered in. Owner Abdirahman Ahmed, AKA Chef Abcos, and his wife opened Afra Grill at the beginning of June and the reception appears to be strong. As his bio states “At the heart of his experience … is his love for Somali cuisine, which unites and promotes a multitude of cultures in every dish.”
I had little clue as to what items were on the menu, but all of the folks inside were kind enough to help me out and explain. It’s a familiar style for Columbus folks. Pick your base, choose your protein, toppings, and sauces, and you’ve got yourself a fast-casual African inspired meal. Afra Grill offers online ordering and even a drive-thru, an extra helpful bonus in our time of social distancing. Important note, Afra Grill is a cash-free business, so be sure to have some plastic on you.
You know we’re all about the tasty triangles. We talked about them before with Curry Up, but now they’re back in sambusa form. It’s still a bit unclear to me if a sambusa is truly different than a samosa, but these are a little more tightly packed and were crispier with a thinner exterior. Inside, the spices of the beef pop and the crispness of the exterior make this a nice introduction to the Afra Grill offerings. Other available sides include Mulawax (Somali crepes) or extra plantains. The Lady of the Farm also got some of their Award-winning Afra Cream Tea and enjoyed it quite a bit. There a variety of juices available as well if that’s something you’re into.
As you get to the ingredients of the dish, you start to notice all of the different colors. Some bright yellow and orange from the bell peppers and corn. Green from the okra and more bell peppers. Then some additional colors from the plantains, potatoes and carrots. Under each of these is also Bariis, a Somali style rice (one of their four bases). The Lady of the Farm opted for the Chicken Afra while I got the Habo Steak as the protein. If you’re not into meat they also have a veggie mix you can use instead. The Habo Steak is covered in a thick sauce that tasted like it had a fairly cumin-heavy base with some garlic properties and maybe a bit of chili in there as well.
I want to take a moment to recognize the Suugo. It’s a Somali Potato Sauce that sits somewhere in between the creamiest mashed potatoes you’ve ever had and the least chunky potato salad you’ve ever had. Reading that back it doesn’t sound great but I can assure you you’re doing yourself a disservice if you do not select Suugo in your dish. Well-seasoned, a little creamy and a lot tasty, I almost wish I’d swapped out some of the other bowl ingredients for more of it.
The noodle part of the dish is the Ntaambi and the Kud Kud is a mix of opinion, raisins, and bell pepper. On the top right you’ll see some of the plantains as well, a must-have for the Lady of the Farm whenever it’s on the menu. All in all, the flavors are unique and were definitely a fresh departure from other dishes we’ve had around the city.
But Ron, you ask, what about the spiciness? Surely you wouldn’t be talking about Afra Grill if there wasn’t some spiciness. Well, glad you asked.
These two sauces come in a tiny side container, but both pack a pretty good punch. On the left is their Red Sauce, rated as two chilis on their menu. Tastes a bit like it has a tomato base, with some chili peppers, garlic and a few other odds and ends. This one had the cheeks of the Lady of the Farm sweating, but she kept going back to it and adding a little more at a time to her dish, grasping for her Afra Ice Tea from time to time to quell the heat. She took a small taste of the Green Sauce, rates as three chilis on their menu, and instantly regretted it, retreating away with a “nope, nope, nope.” As she wandered off I took a taste of the green sauce to try and get a sense of what we were dealing with. I have no confirmation of this, but the heat of both sauces reminds me a lot of the Scotch Bonnet heat I’ve started to become accustomed to recognizing a bit more. It’s similar to a habanero, but something about the heat is a little different. The Green Sauce hits quick, producing a needling sensation on the tongue and then sitting at the back of your tongue, leading me to believe the density of peppers in this sauce is fairly high.
The dishes lasted two days, but in the first half of my food I used up all of the green sauce. Moving through the dish, the green sauce continued to linger, with a few instances of heavy mouth-breathing. Sniffles started to kick up toward the end and my lips were left tingling. Whatever is in their hot sauces is definitely worth investigation because it’s tasty, spicy, and compliments the food extremely well. It was interesting too because with the sauce mixed in some bites you’d get nothing, but other bites, POW, a spicy land mine would go off. The red sauce is tasty, but between the two, the Green Sauce is deserving of their three-chili rating.
With the sweat from the Lady of the Farm and the burn and linger for me, we’re placing Afra Grill at #22 on our list, right after Thai Grille’s Pad Kee Mao and before Wing Snob’s Hot AF sauce. As a quick meal goes though, Afra Grill is definitely toward the top of the spicy list. If you head there I’d advise you to ask for extra sauce, because that stuff is good (I at least know I will be asking for extra next time we go).
You can find Afra Grill at 1635 Morse Road.
Look below for more in our spiciest dish in Columbus series and hit us up if you have any suggestions that are not already on our list!
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