J’s Oasis Café
J's Oasis Café
1200-D E. Thirty-sixth St.,
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sometimes open until 2 a.m.
J's Oasis Café is located in a ragged corner shopping center. The parking lot is gravel and broken asphalt. One store sells cigarettes, milk, beer, and fortified wines. The next is empty, then a beauty salon, and the last is J's Oasis. It looks empty, but it just doesn't have the lights on inside during the day. Two fliers taped to the window advertise lunch specials: fried fish or chicken and fries. Chicken is spelled chihken. I push the door in, expecting the usual Southern fried specials.
The waitress doesn't speak English. A young man spooning rice into his mouth from a plate heaped high and surrounded by green sauce gets up and comes over with the only menu in the place. He points to cassava greens and rice and says, "This." He disappears into the back, then returns with a sample. I take a taste. The green sauce is stewed cassava greens (a cassava is like a yam and is a staple in West Africa. The greens are the top of the root). The stew has small chunks of aromatic chicken, with a hint of tobacco flavor. It's wonderful. The small dab of brown sauce on the side is made from habanero peppers, and it blows my mouth and nostrils wide open. This is my kind of place—accidental cuisine. I'm in dive heaven now.
J's Oasis is alive with people speaking African languages. West African music lends a loud reggae beat. Customers are laughing, drinking Guinness stout, and half-watching The Jerry Springer Show. Two cross-dressing rednecks with hairy white beer bellies beat each other up. This is a Liberian restaurant, and it's a favorite place for a lot of African taxi drivers. The waitress brings out a large plate with a heap of rice and a bowl of hot cassava stew. It's followed with another plate mounded with rice and a whole, unbreaded and fried tilapia without the head. The skin is crisp and the meat fresh and flavorful. It's way too much food, though. Two people could share an order of cassava greens and rice for $9. J's Oasis is a real find. It's a dive, but it might be the best food in NoDa.