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New lunch buffet for international district

by Brian Clarey

The western stretch of Market Street, with miles of strip malls, auto parts stores, retail shopping and restaurants – lots and lots of restaurants – is not immune to the trend of sprawl so prevalent in our nation’s cities, but also it is a part of a local commercial ecosystem that must adapt to the changing tides in Greensboro, the ebb and flow of tastes, trends and whimsy that dictate where people go and how long they keep going there.

The pull of downtown lures bodies away from parts of the city like this, and the cluster of new businesses – restaurants in particular – at the Friendly Center site posits a similarly magnetic draw. And yet there is a constant presence of recent immigrants in this section of town, Hispanics, Asians and Middle Easterners among them, that lend their character to the district.

Araya Wossen, proprietor of Montego Bay Caribbean Restaurant knows this.

He’s been on this stretch of Market for a good while, ever since he gave up the printing business and got into the restaurant game more than five years ago. A lot has gone down in this short stretch during his watch. And he’s a man who takes notice of the currents.

“One thing I keep on pushing about West Market Street, you got the Brazilian place, the Italian place, the Indian place, Caribbean, Mexican, Thai,” he says. “It’s like an international corner.”

Araya himself is of Ethiopian descent, and he says his own father once worked for Emperor Haile Selassie during the final years of his reign.

At the lunchtime hour he sits at a table in his restaurant conducting business under the flags of the island nations that hang from the ceiling and eating a plate of pasta and cabbage. He takes calls, meets with sales reps and vendors – and sends a few of them away.

Up above dangles the red, white and blue flag of Cuba and another from St. Lucia that looks kind of like an album cover; the boom-boom room, where the action gets started after dark, is partitioned off by a wooden screen. And against the wall, backlit by a run of mirrors, is Araya’s newest adaptation to the changing marketplace.

It’s a lunch buffet of the all-you-can-eat variety featuring what is essentially the greatest hits package of the restaurant’s more popular dishes, something that makes so much sense on this end of West Market Street it hurts.

“Our food is made from scratch,” Wossen says. “It takes time. And people were complaining because they’ve only got an hour for lunch.”

Demand. meet supply.

The buffet is a simple affair, with a basic salad bar that provides leaf lettuce (not iceberg) as a base. Today there is a homemade macaroni salad dressed with a vinaigrette.

Under the sneeze guard, eight chafing dishes hold the day’s steaming hot dishes – barbecued and jerk chicken, cabbage, steamed broccoli and squash, rice with beans, fried plantains and a penne pasta dish with tomato and meat sauce.

It’s probably worth it for the plantains alone, sautéed to the perfect degree of carmelization. Or the jerk sauce that gathers in a thin, curry-tinted pool on the plate. Or the Carribean-style barbecue sauce, with heat cut by the fruity presence of pineapple. The cabbbage, sauteed simply with just a bit of garlic in chicken stock, is simply exquisite. And the pasta and sauce is pretty good, too, with a surprising afterburn.

Wossen says the menu will change daily. “We’re gonna do ribs, seafood, dessert, all of that,” he says.

It’s good business – the locale is in the orbit of hundreds of potential lunch-hour patrons who will seek repast elsewhere if guys like Araya don’t provide a reason for them to support his short stretch of West Market Street, which really has become a sort of culinary melting pot.

“They putting in that big international mall right down the street,” he says. “I don’t know what’s gonna be in there. What do you hear?”

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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