BB&PF offers African dining adventure

Entering BB&PF is an adventure in dining. A few blocks north of the LSU entrance gates, the small café specializes in African-based dishes. The name stands for “bean burgers and plantain fries,” just a hint of what you will find on the menu.

Customers are greeted by Caroline Cousins, owner, chef and one-woman wait staff. A native of Nigeria, she has created an oasis of West Africa in the heart of Baton Rouge. With white-washed walls, simple tables and chairs and pictures of dishes above the counter, customers know they are in for straightforward dining.

The specialty here is bean burgers. Forget red beans, pinto beans or black beans. The burgers are made of black-eyed peas cooked down into a thick paste which is formed into patties and fried until crisp. The patty is combined with fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce on a soft hamburger bun ($3). Extend your meal with an order ($2) of fried plantains, potatoes or sweet potato fries. We tried the thin, fried strips of outstanding plantains that were crisp on the exterior and soft in the center. They come slightly salty and you can ask for ketchup on the side.

Louisiana residents who want to explore their knowledge of African foods beyond gumbo (Yes, it’s an African word), can try Fufu, a mash of yams served as a side dish or with soup; or Moin Moin, the black-eyed peas cake flavored by the cook. We also learned that plantains were brought back to Africa by natives returning from South America. Today they are a common item in the West African diet.

Dinner entrees were tasty and truly filling. Especially good was the plate with a large helping of delicately flavored coconut rice topped with medium cubes of tender beef ($9) in a rich tomato sauce with slices of tender plantains on the side. While we did not try it, this entrée can be ordered with a topping of chicken or fish stew. A second entrée ($9) featured a leg and thigh of tender baked chicken and couscous, a north African starch made of crushed and steamed semolina. The light, fluffy couscous was a pleasant change from rice or pasta, and the entire dish was smothered in the slightly peppery tomato sauce. The dishes were just spicy enough so we passed on using the bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce on the table. We also tried the unusual sweet potato soup ($2), a thick mixture of sweet potatoes seasoned with onion, parsley and pepper in a strong-flavored fish broth.

The café has soft drinks, tea and bottled water. Since the ice machine wasn’t working, our hostess brought out a pitcher of freshly made iced tea and goblets filled with ice. Seasonal fruit juice is also available. If you dare to go native, and then try the Palm Drink ($5), a wine drink made from the fermented sap of palm trees. It’s light, slightly foamy, and we would enhance it with a bit of lime.