By LAURIE HIGGINS
May 09, 2013
We’re pretty big fans of the charming Karoo Kafé in Provincetown, so we were very happy to hear that chef/owner Sanette Groenewald was opening a full-service yearround restaurant in Eastham. If the bustling dining room and 30-minute wait for a table is any indicator, Eastham has welcomed this new business with open wallets.
Not that the new Karoo restaurant is expensive, because it isn’t.
Groenewald specializes in cooking her native South African food, which is a fusion of Dutch, British, Malaysian, Portuguese, Indian and African flavors that are often spicy, but not especially hot. For the uninitiated, she offers a food dictionary that is informative and humorous. For example, she notes that the making of menu items such as “bunny chow” and “monkey gland sauce” do not in any way involve real bunnies or monkeys.
The dining room is beautifully decorated in earth tones, wood and South African art. Groenewald’s hands-on approach as a business owner can be seen in every corner of the restaurant. Not only does she cook the food, but she also did a lot of the much-needed spruce-up that the empty building required herself, including creating the lovely wall sconces with cool Mason jar globes. She makes it a point to get out into the dining room and chat with her guests, stopping by each table to make sure they are happy with their food and answer any questions.
Karoo also has a large wrap-around bar and a menu of reasonably priced and intriguing specialty cocktails. The sidecar ($8) made with Christian Brothers Brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice and served in a sugar-rimmed martini glass, is excellent. We plan to replicate that recipe at our next grown-up dinner party.
There is also a nice, and affordable, wine list with wines that all come from South Africa. Our server launched into an interesting and comprehensive description of the Pinotage wines, made from South Africa’s signature variety of red wine grapes. His enthusiasm alone was enough to prompt ordering a glass of the Tukulu Fair Trade Pinotage ($8). It was an earthy, rustic-style wine that paired well with food.
Karoo is one of those places where you want to dine with someone who likes to share, so you can try more dishes. For starters, we ordered a bowl of the West African Peanut Soup ($6), a silky textured offering with deep flavors of pumpkin, sweet carrots and creamy peanut butter, topped with a garnish of minced scallion and chopped peanuts. It had a rich spicy flavor that was irresistibly good.
The “monkey” ribs ($1.85 each) were meaty pork ribs covered with “monkey gland” sauce, a sweet and mildly spicy South African barbecue-style sauce. The sauce was great and the pork was falling-off-the-bone tender.
We love Karoo’s Peri-Peri sauce enough to have purchased bottles of it to take home in the past (she sells it in the front of the restaurant both in Provincetown and Eastham), so the Peri-Peri chicken ($15.95) was a favorite.
A half of a bone-in chicken was marinated in the sauce and then grilled to juicy perfection. The skin was crisp and the meat was moist. For a side, you can order french fries or a salad. In my opinion, the salad is the way to go. It consisted of fresh romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, red cabbage and red onion, and was tossed in a lively homemade Chianti dressing that I enjoyed.
The curried lamb stew ($17.95) turned out to be a huge portion of vegetables and lamb served over saffron rice. The meat was tender and vegetables included potatoes, carrots, green beans and peas. The curry sauce was on the hotter side of spicy, but in a pleasant way. I didn’t love it as much as the chicken, but anyone looking for a hearty stew won’t be disappointed. Karoo also offers a nice selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items for those who are so inclined.
When Groenewald stopped by our table for a chat, we learned that she plans to expand the menu over time to include some of the more exotic meats like venison and buffalo that she serves in Provincetown. She seemed surprised by the incredibly warm reception that Eastham has given her, but we weren’t surprised at all. The combination of friendliness, good flavors, fair prices and a warm and lively atmosphere bode well for the new restaurant, which still had every table full when we left at around 8 p.m.