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$20 Dinner

$20 Dinner: Feasting At Papaye, the Bronx’s Ghanaian Classic

Get ready to tear the banku into bits and plunge them into the soup.

A plate of goat, with jollof and okra, on a red tray.

Goat, with jollof and okra (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The family-owned Ghanaian restaurant Papaye, which has two locations along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, has been feeding locals since the early aughts, and enjoyed a brief bit of all-city hype a dozen years ago when the Times did a $25 and Under piece on the place. 

Not that it really needed the latter. I've lived a couple of boroughs away from that part of town since Papaye first opened and hadn't thought of it in years, but based on the steady stream of regulars pouring in here during the early evening last week, it's been chugging along just fine without me or anyone else taking that long train ride from Brooklyn to feast on banku and waakye, goat meat and cow feet.

Anyway, like any self-respecting journalist in 2022, I was reminded of the place on Tik Tok, specifically on an episode of Kareem Rahma's "Keep the Meter Running" series in which a cab driver named George introduces the comedian to his favorite restaurant. Which is, of course, Papaye. Not the brighter, newer one on Grand Concourse itself, but the hideout-like original on McClellan Street, around the corner from the Bronx Museum.            

I say hideout because even though Papaye boasts a corner location with generous frontage running up McClellan, all of the windows have been blacked out. You enter into a combination ordering and storage area—ambiance and decor are nonexistent at Papaye—then carry your tray up some stairs to a low-ceilinged, fluorescent-lit dining room. It feels very closed-off from the world. Or it would have if the big screen TV hadn't been blaring People's Court. It's probably more fun when, say, the World Cup is on.

The menu is whatever you see at the steam tables (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Papaye is all counter service, and the day's menu is whatever's set out on the long steam table. Nothing's labeled, so if you're a rookie like me, the process can be a little intimidating. You're trying to sort out what goes with what in a hurry, because there are hungry people waiting behind you—but your server will try her best to help. I wound up getting two separate goat dishes (total noob move), but the cuts were different enough that I didn't feel like a total idiot.

Goat peanut butter soup with banku (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The goat stew meat was half-submerged in a bowl of thick and fiery peanut butter soup. This was served with an enormous banku, a blob of tangy fermented corn dough meant to be torn to bits and plunged into the soup between gnaws of meat. Use your hand for the ripping and dipping, please. There's a sink in the back to wash up before you dig in.

 Use your hands to rip off pieces of banku and dip it into your soup (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The other goat at our party was fatty and covered with a thick, chewy skin, two qualities that I, personally, am into. A mountain of good jollof rice and a mess of slimy okra completed the platter. Other options included chicken legs, hunks of skin-on tilapia, kebabs, spinach and egusi stew with bofrot, or Ghanaian donuts, plantains, waakye, which is like rice and beans, the doughy balls of cassava known as fufu, and what the server called "foot stew," a mixture of pig and cow trotters.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Derek Addae, who has been the manager here since it opened in 2003, told Hell Gate that while most of the customers are Ghanaian immigrants who live in the area, "people from all walks of life come for the chicken and peanut butter soup. People from the Bronx Museum. Sometimes people from Manhattan. One guy he lives in Pennsylvania, he's a movie star, used to live in Ghana, comes here with his family. It reminds them of home."     

Hell Gate total for two, including tax and a Malta (which I forgot I don't like), not including tip: $37

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Papaye has two locations in the Bronx, the original at 196 McClellan Street, and one that opened five years later at 2300 Grand Concourse. Both are open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.     

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