April 5, 2010

Elea's Restaurant

Elea's sign

711 Broad Street
Providence, RI 02907-1481

Elea’s is named after founder and owner Eleanor Gaye, a Liberian who settled in Rhode Island in the 1980s to escape the civil war in her homeland. Gaye’s first business venture here was a grocery store that specialized in Liberian food stuffs. Many of her customers weren’t Liberian but wanted to use the store’s products to prepare Liberian cuisine. In response, Gaye began offering prepared dishes and eventually opened Elea’s as a full-fledged restaurant in 1996. Citing the difficulty for immigrants to get small-business loans, Gaye funded the restaurant from her personal savings and initially ran the restaurant all by herself. Unsurprisingly, many of Elea’s diners are Liberian expatriates in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They come not just to eat but also to catch up on news from Liberia.

Elea's decor

When Gaye started the restaurant, she also sought to attract people from other Rhode Island communities. For a month, she gave out free samples, which helped to draw people unfamiliar with West African dishes.

Menu board

Although Elea’s has a standard menu, there are also many daily specials. During my visit, a customer asked hopefully if fried gizzards were on the day’s menu. Vegetarians have options as well but, for strict herbivores, it’s best to check if a meat stock was used in preparing a dish. It’s easy to create a full meal with jollof rice and a combination of various side dishes. Sides of eggplant and fried peppers are on frequent rotation while spinach, kidney beans, fried okra, okra sauce, and cassava leaf are regular menu items. While we waited in line together, a regular customer enthusiastically recommended that I try the fried peppers on my next visit. This time, I ordered jollof rice, a mildly flavored dish of seasoned rice with vegetables, which paired nicely with a side of spicy collard greens.

Jollof rice
{Jollof Rice}

Collard Greens
{Collard Greens}

Gaye’s hard work has paid off. Elea’s is a thriving restaurant, and Gaye now has several employees to assist her in feeding the steady flow of customers.

1 comment:

  1. I bet their Oxtail Stew is phenomenal! Next time I'm up there I'll have to stop by and sample the recipe!


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