Culinary Cab Confessions: Ghana on the Hudson

“I want you to take me to lunch.”

These were the first words I said to the driver after getting in his cab outside my apartment on W. 10th Street in New York City. His eyes went from looking at me in the rearview mirror to whipping his head around to look at me face to face.

“Huh?” he said.

I repeated it and then mentioned the reputation cab drivers have: that, in addition to being oft-eratic drivers, they supposedly hold the secrets to a city’s best cheap eats. He let his head fall back, his face staring up at the ceiling of his car, and let out a huge laugh.

“You see,” said Joseph, “I mostly eat junk food.”

I pressed him, fearing I was going to end up at McDonalds or Taco Bell, asking where he usually eats when he’s taking a break from cab. I know it was cheating but I verbally cajoled him a bit. “Something good,” I said.

And then a lightbulb went on above his head: “Ah,” he said. “I have it.” He stepped on the gas and we whipped eastward down W. 10th St.

When seeking out new restaurants in a place, some people look at food blogs or local magazines or ask friends. I have a different method: I talk to cab drivers. As I’ve done several times in the last year, I’m testing out the theory that cab drivers are also great restaurant finders. So far I’ve done this in Ethiopia, Burma, Mexico, and, once, in New York City and I’ve yet to have had a bad meal. The last time I did this in the Big Apple I was taken to a Turkish restaurant in the Village by a Turkish driver. Would ethnicity once again determine my lunch spot?

Joseph, it turns out, is from Ghana and the restaurant he was taking me to – which he frequents once or twice a week – was a west African place. So, yes, I had my answer. Not that I have a problem with this. One of the goals of doing this is to find a place I’d never think about eating, a place I didn’t even know existed.

On the way there, stuck in traffic on Sixth Avenue, Joseph told me about the Christian book and music shop he owned in Brooklyn. “My specialty was Christian rap,” he said.

Christian rap?

“That’s right. It’s good stuff. And it has a good message. No violence. No profanity.” He suggested I get started with Sho Baraka, the “Jay-Z of Christian rap music.”

I thought this would be a good time to change the subject and asked if anyone had ever hopped in his cab and made such a crazy request like taking them to find a place to eat. About seven years ago, Joseph recalled, a drunk Irish guy asked to be taken him to a strip club – any strip club. “So I took him to a place in west Chelsea. When we got there he insisted I go inside with him. And, you won’t believe it, there were naked ladies in there!” At this point, Joseph buckled over, bursting with laughter while still talking. I understood nothing he was saying. It was totally incomprehensible except it sounded something like “Extra tiny midgets enjoy magical candies with Mitt Romney and Jesus,” but I’m almost sure that’s not what he said. He kept laughing and speaking, though, and I still had no idea what he was saying. At one point, I thought: did he just say, “Punk rock grannies give the best relief when their wooden legs are off”? Nah. It sounded like it though.

A few minutes and turns later and we were idling in front of B&B restaurant (165 W. 26th St., New York, NY, 212-627-2914). “Get the peanut butter sauce,” he said, as I handed him money for the fare.

Joseph shook my hand and reminded me that I should give Christian rap a try. I nodded and made my way into the restaurant. It was set up buffet style. There were no placards on any of the chaffing dishes, so I just grabbed a plate and began putting stuff on. Most of the food was reminiscent of Indian cuisine: a lot of saucy, meaty (sometimes curry-flavored) dishes dumped over rice.

And Joseph was right: the peanut butter sauce (bobbing with super tender lamb meatballs) was amazing. So was the yassa Guinar, a tender chicken in an onion-y sauce. I was the only non-African in the place and felt like I’d really discovered something, a place I really would have never thought to wander in.

Score another one for the taxi drivers. But only ask for music recommendations at your own peril.