The twist is that those meals reflect chef and owner Sanette Groenewald’s home cooking and Groenewald grew up outside Cape Town in South Africa. South African cooking has Indian, Malaysian, Portuguese and British influences and there is a little bit of each on the menu.
The restaurant is tucked in an alley and the colorful, zebra-striped seats and cool artifacts on the walls create a warm and friendly atmosphere that is further enhanced by Groenewald’s hands-on approach. She is not a chef who hides in her kitchen. The night we visited, she stopped by to ask, “You happy?” and we actually were very happy — to meet her, to talk about her recipes and to enjoy her delicious food.
With so many unusual choices, it was hard to decide what to eat because, really, we wanted to try it all. The veggie combo appetizer ($8.95) was a great starting point. It came with two each of four different snack-size bites that satisfied our curiosity and palate.
The vegetable samosas were soft pillow-like triangles, deepfried with a light and crispy exterior and filled with a curried mixture of corn, onions and diced carrots. The falafel was a spicy little ball of flavor that contrasted nicely with the similarly shaped but differently flavored kibbi balls made with garbanzo beans, pumpkin and bulgur wheat. The rice-stuffed grape leaves were tender and refreshing.
Each of those items can also be purchased separately for a dollar or two, as can the Peri-Peri Wings ($1.25 a piece or $7.55 for six). Peri-peri sauce is a hot East African sauce made from dried and soaked peri-peri chilies. Groenewald explained that she had to tone down the heat for the American palate, so the sauce wasn’t too spicy, but the flavor was so good we bought a bottle of it to take home. My husband pronounced the wings the very best he’s ever tasted, with the tender meat falling off the bone, and he quizzed Groenewald about her cooking method (slow roasted in the oven, then sauced again and grilled) so he could make them himself.
My husband ordered the lamb pita ($8.95), which was so incredible that I ended up eating half of it. The slices of roast leg of lamb were tender with nice char marks from the grill. They were served with cucumber, lettuce, red onion and tzaziki sauce on a soft and puffy pita that was also lightly grilled. I would drive back to Provincetown just to eat this sandwich again. It was that good.
Karoo Kafe serves a nice selection of both vegetarian and vegan dishes, so I decided to try the Cape Malay Stew with vegetables (other choices include chicken, tofu, shrimp or mussels for $14.25). It was served over a bed of yellow rice and the spicy curry and coconut milk sauce was heaven on the tongue.
The only disappointment with our meal was that the vegetables were an uninspired blend of corn, peas, green beans, diced carrots that reminded me of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. There were also a generous number of garbanzo beans, but I had hoped for some more exotic fresh vegetables.
It’s kind of a picky thing for what was, overall, a delightful dining experience. There’s no doubt we will go back. The only question is will we try more new things or stick to the menu items we simply loved?