Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, November 4, 2016-2:35 pm
If you’ve ever wondered how Dyckman Street suddenly turned into Amsterdam Avenue 2.0, you can look no further than the Inwwood outpost of sassy, savory minichain Mamajuana Cafe.
The raucous, upscale eatery, located on the cusp of the boulevard’s Restaurant Row, may make you wonder why you ever went downtown to be part of the “scene”—given its sexy cocktails, stylish wood-and-brick décor and appetizing crowd … which laps up the spot’s Dominican fare just as hungrily as it does the sidewalk candy outside. Pepper that with the possibility of bouncy music, mixed by an indoor DJ, wafting along the streetside tables, and you’ve got what more resembles a chic UWS lounge than a down-to-earth neighborhood nosh pit.
If the food weren’t tasty, these would be draws in themselves, but thankfully, the cookery, for the most part, satisfies—especially the Mofonguitos starter: three fried-crisp, hollowed-out cups of mashed plantain filled alternately with piquant shredded chicken, slivers of crab and curls of shrimp … the latter being, sad to say, absent of true crustacean character. All of this is set in a rich reddish sauce that’s pleasant but unnecessary, given the most components of the dish. Still, it goes well with tipples such as the Jack Sparrow, a rum-and-tamarind-saturated adult beverage that offers a bit of spice with its kick, or the citrusy, minty Mojito. And if those aren’t potent enough, the Coco Fire, crafted in part with house-made coconut liquor, may provide the rip-roarin’ boost you’re seeking, along with a mixologist’s sensitivity. Bear in mind that parties have been seen here ordering pitchers of vibrantly colored hooch. There’s no question that fun can be had at Mamajuana Cafe in quantities larger than a shot glass.
Entrees are flavorful. The Camarones Atlanticos feature a row of not-very-assertive shrimp doused in a garlicky, bright orange sauce and topped with thin slices of radish, as well as a lone orchid flower. Beside it: a bowl of Maduro vegetable fried rice, well-cooked and hearty, the tidbits of plantain that pepper the grains offering a surprising (and welcome) sweetness. Then there’s the glamorously presented Pechuga Rellena—a stuffed chicken breast filled with sausage, drenched in a creamy mushroom sauce, and placed beside an ice-cream-esque scoop of mashed potatoes (rather toothsome) and a serving of sautéed spinach (even better) … the whole is topped with a towering slice of fried plantain (bland and mealy) and one of those orchids again. Prices for mains range from the teens to the mid-30s, though many sit in the 20s. You can add sides, but the portions are more than satisfying. And if you opt for the sugary, guava-enhanced Tres Leches Cake for the finale of your feast, you likely won’t go home hungry; this square of moist cake, saturated with milk and capped with a glutinous red topping, will provide you with your fill of dessert for a while.
At least, that is, until you’re ready for your next eating excursion.
Service is a bit brusque and officious; for the price, one wonders if it could be a little friendlier. The subway is down the block, in case you’re wondering about post-repast transportation options. Maybe the neighborhood is near the tip of Manhattan, but it’s hardly out of the way; convenience is one of the area’s great merits … tempting vittles are another. Mamajuana Cafe certainly supplies both.
Just don’t be too disappointed if you feel a little dowdier than the beautiful people dining here. Frankly, it’s a small price to pay for being one with the Inwood crowd.