116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Diners seeking new variety: fear not. A new type of African cuisine has reached the Corridor with Tee’s Liberian Dish.
The new restaurant opened June 13 in the former location of Brewed Awakenings, 1271 First Ave. SE. Since its grand opening, owner Teepeu Pewu has been eager to introduce some bold new flavors to the local palate.
“With Liberian food, we take our own time to prepare the kind of flavor we put into our food, which makes it different,” Pewu said. “The way we prepare our food ... brings out the taste in a different way.”
Liberian cuisine centers around a few staples like rice, cassava (a starchy root), plantains, vegetables and meats. Abundant on the menu at Tee’s are several types of rice, gravies and unique staples you won’t find anywhere else in the area.
Where: 1271 First Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Open Sunday until 3 p.m. for advance carryout orders only.
Phone: (319) 449-4565 or (609) 516-4427
Details: For Sunday carryout orders, call by Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Pewu’s jollof rice is a type of dish prevalent in West Africa, with a bit of a rivalry on which country makes it the best. Naturally, Pewu has some opinions on the matter.
“Liberian jollof is the best,” she said with a smile. “Other kinds in West Africa don’t come with the flavor we put in ours.”
With distinct seasonings from shrimp, tomato and chicken, the rice has a savory flavor delivered with chicken, onions, sweet peppers, sausage and other mixed vegetables.
The Nigerian version of jollof, she said, mixes in vegetables without the melded flavor hers has, using much more tomato.
The extra tomatoes “gives it a sour taste,” she said.
Other unique finds include fufu, a starchy, doughy mix rounded into sticky balls from plantains and cassava, served alongside a meat stew.
If you’re looking for a signature go-to dish for Liberians, try the toborgee and rice, a spicy and bitter stew with shrimp, crab, fish, chicken and red oil made from palm nuts.
“A lot of Liberians know exactly what it is, so they go for it whenever they see it,” Pewu said.
If you’re craving a different type of breakfast, Tee’s serves Liberia’s proud baking tradition with rice and banana bread, homemade doughnuts, sweet potatoes and gravy, cornbread, short bread and other hot dishes made from plantains, yams and gravy.
After selling food out of her home kitchen since January, Pewu and her family are working overtime to make her dream come true. The owner and chef, formerly a nurse in Liberia, said she got into cooking professionally after being asked to cater weddings and events.
With a husband in the National Guard and children at home, she took it as a new opportunity in a new place.
“While I’m at home, I can do what I know to do best,” she said.
While getting her restaurant off the ground, the owner continues to work overnight shifts as a care giver at Systems Unlimited, with the hope that she will be able to run the restaurant as a full-time source of income some day.
It’s a lot of work for one person, she concedes, but it’s a dream she thinks is worth laboring for.
Pewu and her husband, Momolu, moved their family to Cedar Rapids three years ago. In addition to serving in the National Guard, Momolu works for Whirlpool.
After fleeing the West African Ebola epidemic in 2014, the nurse and her family first lived in Trenton, N.J., for four years after winning the Diversity Visa lottery. After her husband tried for years to find a path to immigrate to the United States, she won the lottery on her first try.
But with a high cost of living and less ideal conditions for raising a family in New Jersey, they decided to move to Cedar Rapids with an opportunity for Momolu at Whirlpool -- not knowing a single soul in Iowa.
“We had to go somewhere we (could) start from that would be better for us and our kids,” she said.
Now, rather than buying Powerball tickets, Pewu is trying her luck at the American dream in the restaurant industry, putting to use a cooking that’s new to Cedar Rapidians, but second nature to her.
“When we decided to open, we decided not to take out a loan to put it into this business,” she said. “We want to work and see where this business can go first.”
As she continues to work the graveyard shift to pay the shop’s rent, she hopes the new cuisine reaches the hearts of hungry customers through their stomachs.
Comments: (319) 398-8340; firstname.lastname@example.org