Ambiance? Check. Large portion size? Check. Unique food with punchy flavor? Double check. Long wait? Triple check and two thumbs down.
While visiting Charlottesville last month, I finally had a chance to eat at The Shebeen, a South African restaurant near Downtown. And though our party of three waited more than an hour to get seated, the food was worth the wait.
It’s really amazing that Charlottesville, a town surrounded by farms and cow pastures in the middle of Virginia, offers so many ethnic dining options, from Chinese and Vietnamese to Lebanese and French. And though some restaurants Americanize the flavors (Moto Pho, I’m talking to you), there are countless others that taste amazingly authentic.
Shebeen was a mix of the two. While some dishes, like the Stellenbosch Sampler, included more Western-style beef samosas, chicken “Zambezi” satay and “Tusker“-battered onion rings, many of the entrees seemed authentic. To compare, most dishes taste similar to Middle Eastern cuisine.
The Peri-Peri Chicken was highly recommended on Yelp, and I’m not surprised. This super spicy chicken, coated in an African birds-eye chili rub, is a must-try if you visit. Extremely flavorful and moist, even the mango chutney and side-veggies were a hit.
But my personal favorite was the Durban Spiced Chicken: two giant chicken breast skewered on sugar cane, spiced with cardamom, annatto, coriander & cumin and served over South African-style grits called mealie pap, a spicy and flavorful voodoo sauce, and also a side of mango chutney.
Wow was that an amazing dish. The creamy grits paired with the heat and kick of the sauce and the insanely buttery chicken … it was heaven. Even when I was so full I didn’t think I could eat another bite, I had to slurp up every last drop of the sauce. And don’t judge, but I may have also sucked on the sugar cane skewers — they reminded me of my summers in China.
Unfortunately, our friend, who was incidentally born and raised in Botswana, ended up with the least flavorful dish. His 16 oz. steak, Shaka’s Choice, was deemed flavorless and dry.
So the next time you want to mix up your dining routine, check out The Shebeen.
Come for the warm, pub-like atmosphere and the friendly staff, but definitely stay for the food.
And, even if you have a long wait like we did, kick back and wait in these comfy sofas with a cool beer in hand.
247 Ridge McIntire Rd
Charlottesville, VA 22903