Located a couple blocks off Main Street, one of Watertown’s newest restaurants offers a unique combination of Caribbean and Mediterranean food, with an emphasis on healthy preparations.
Nzuko opened in November, and offers a wide range of dishes inspired by multiple cuisines, said chef Laurette Ndukwe.
“I’m from the Caribbean and the manager is from Jordan, and then we have my son, who is an African-American from here, and we have Brazilians in the kitchen, so we have a multicultural flair in the restaurant,” Ndukwe said.
Nzuko’s first location was in Framingham, but many diners lived west of Boston (or in the city), so they asked if Ndukwe could open another restaurant closer to Boston. After searching the area, Ndukwe’s real estate agent found the space, which is part of an apartment building on Howard Street near Pleasant Street.
Brining food from the Caribbean and the Mediterranean together seemed natural to Ndukwe.
“When you look at the Mediterranean diet and the herbs and what they use, it speaks to what we wanted to bring on the table,” Ndukwe said. “And when we looked at Caribbean dishes, we use the same spices we do, but we use them differently – we just use it a little bit more.”
The design of Nzuko’s interior is also a combination of the two regions, with tiles from the Middle East and a bar created in a Caribbean style.
While some dishes are based on traditional favorites, such as jerk chicken and falafel, Nzuko puts its own spin on it, said manager Khaldoon Alhaleseh.
“I’m Jordanian, you know Middle Eastern, and I live with falafel, but when I tried it here it is totally different — a new flavor,” said Alhaleseh said, who added that he now gets requests to bring it home to his family.
The reception has been positive, said Obi Ndukwe, project manager for Nzuko and is Laurette’s son.
“As customers come in, if they are Jamaican or from the Middle East, a lot of things that they are used to. For example jerk chicken, they’ll come in thing of it as dry off the grill and they realize (at Nzuko) it comes with sauce,” Obi said. “Yes, they are surprised and even offended sometimes, but in tasting it and trying it, they say, ‘I didn’t know there was a different approach to making a dish that I grew up with.’ That is what we are focusing on — taking dishes we all grew up with but also adding our own touch, whether it is spices, through sauces, or different techniques.”
Running a restaurant is a career change for Ndukwe, who worked as a licensed social worker for 19 years. She focuses on using fresh ingredients and using healthy preparations, and said the inspiration came from her home cooking.
“One of the reasons why we are cooking is because of health issues for my husband,” Ndukwe said. “Cooking for him was a very challenging task but also a very educational one.”
Most of the dishes have no dairy or flour in them, and Ndukwe said that she has heard from vegan customers who have become big fans of the restaurant.
People can also learn how to cook the Nzuko way through classes run every other week, or groups can reserves a time. In February, the classes will be inspired by Black History Month, and there will also be special additions to the menu.
“This month we have an insert menu and lessons on the impact African-Americans have had on cuisine,” Ndukwe said. “I am going to talk about the spices, really tell people why do we use them, and about the influence on the cuisine of America.”
The location also comes with a liquor license and when the City approves Nzuko to start serving beverages, Ndukwe said they will serve their own take on cocktails, along with wine and beer.
Nzuko offers free delivery within Watertown for orders by phone and online. Find out more about Nzuko, including about cooking classes at the restaurant’s website, www.nzukowatertown.com