What Pairs with Goat Head? A Visit to Baltimore’s Ibis International Restaurant
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron
It was a bit of a dare: I’d watched Anthony Bourdain on television eating things that sounded and looked disgusting that he said tasted delicious. If Nigeria’s Isi Ewu could sound so bad, then it must be that good. I wanted to be the first beer nerd to wash Goat Head down with a couple of beers and challenge all my friends to try it at the new Ibis International, a Nigerian and West African restaurant on Harford Road in Baltimore. It wasn’t as easy as I’d expected.
I attended the grand opening on December 10 after helping the Onyejiakas acquire a liquor license. The interior is posh in a Caribbean way. You can feel the DIY in this familial place, which reminds me of a small island restaurant. This is no franchise. Local State Senator Joan Carter Conway cut the ribbon to open the place right after a prayer, blessing and christening by a local minister.
With a couple of Nigerian beers at my side, I felt confident that the Isi Ewu would go down easy. Turns out that was not going to be enough to do the job.
The Nigerian beers included Gulder Lager and Star Lager. Gulder brags about its gold foil label, while Star boasts of a full, rich head. That didn’t exactly inspire confidence as a beer lover. Maybe the Isi Ewu would wash down the taste of the malty, corny brews I’d be drinking. Both beers have a dearth of hops and an overwhelming sweetness of corn. The Star tastes like a typical Caribbean lager, while Gulder had an overabundance of malt and molasses (think India’s Taj Mahal).
Maybe I’m not Anthony Bourdain. I ate lots of things that day, but my American palate was simply unprepared for the various textures that one encounters when eating the head of a goat.
The first texture is cartilage: tons of it. I could chew a pack of gum and that still wouldn’t equate to the amount of chewing I had to do to get down the first couple of bites of the dish. The next texture is squishy, as in brains. Then, there’s bone and finally, a mouth feel that reminded me of good old fashioned meat. It turned out to be tongue, but at that point, it was like an old friend compared to the complete culinary strangers I’d just met in the rest of the dish. As if to make it more difficult for a novice, it was covered in a very unfamiliar, strange smelling yellowish brown sauce. The entree came with a massive bowl of water for cleaning up.
Other menu items include delicious preparations of oxtail, fish, yam and rice dishes and a catfish pepper pot soup called Point & Kill. I had no inkling that I would walk out of there highly recommending something called Point & Kill, but I’m doing that to you. The name simply refers to the tradition of customers being able to point at the tanked fish they chose and having that fish prepared for them.
The restaurant and lounge could make for a fun diversion from Baltimore’s Shrimp & Grits Pub Grub industry, and I would recommend bringing a first date here to discover their boundaries. If they’ll eat Isi Ewu or a dish named Point & Kill on a first date, they’re a keeper.
Ibis International, 6014 Harford Road, (410) 254-0151, open 7 days from 4:00 p.m. Facebook
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