HIDDEN GEM: Some of the best ethnic food in town can be found in a former Subway

Eden Spice menu highlights include Theresa’s red snapper with plantains and rice and beans in the background. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ALEXIS LARSEN

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Eden Spice menu highlights include Theresa’s red snapper with plantains and rice and beans in the background. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ALEXIS LARSEN

“Those who have eaten the foods magically and wonderfully sculpted by my hands are now a part of our family. I welcome you into ours — one dish at a time.”

Since it launched in October of last year, the Ethnosh NoshUps have quickly made my list of favorite food events in town.

Ethnosh is an organization that plans casual monthly dining events called “NoshUps” at immigrant-owned restaurants in Dayton. The events are a terrific value for the cost and the food you get. Just as good as the meal is having the opportunity to hear the story of these special restaurants, the recipes, the hands that prepared the meal and the history of the food.

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Mac and cheese and Jollof rice are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

Theresa Barnes  and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Mac and cheese and Jollof rice are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Mac and cheese and Jollof rice are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

Credit: Eden Garden

I'm not the only one who is loving these events. The latest, to be held on March 16, sold out just a few days after tickets went on sale. It speaks to how quickly these events have found an engaged, interested audience in town and the appetite for hearing more about fantastic restaurants that sometimes fly under the radar.

Eden Spice, a family-owned restaurant in West Carrollton serving cuisine inspired from Sierra Leone and the Caribbean, will host the latest Nosh-up.

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The restaurant, housed in a former Subway, is unassuming and doesn't even begin to hint at the dreams and journey that led to its opening.

Barnes emigrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone in west Africa in 1991. It took her the next 30 years to get her restaurant.

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Theresa Barnes (L) with her husband Samuel and daughters —  and Samenah age 13 and Samyatta  age 20. The family opened Eden Spice in early January 2019.

Credit: Eden Spice

Theresa Barnes (L) with her husband Samuel and daughters —  and Samenah age 13  and Samyatta  age 20. The family opened Eden Spice in early January 2019.

Credit: Eden Spice

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Theresa Barnes (L) with her husband Samuel and daughters —  and Samenah age 13 and Samyatta  age 20. The family opened Eden Spice in early January 2019.

Credit: Eden Spice

Credit: Eden Spice

"Almost three decades later and a lot of time spent fine-tuning my craft, my dream is coming to fruition in the heart of West Carrollton," said Barnes, who has been dreaming of opening a restaurant since she was 10 years old. "In 2016, I started planting the seeds for Eden Spice. I cooked extra dishes at home, and the leftovers I shared with coworkers. On my off days, I’d knock on doors, going door-to-door, to local organizations to see if their employees were hungry. I’d often share food with my neighbors. One neighbor asked, 'how much do you want for your rice?' And I laughed. It wasn’t about the money. My desire to share my food was firmly rooted in my upbringing and background."

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The restaurant that she opened a little over a year ago is a family affair. She is joined by her husband Sam and her two daughters, Samyatta and Samenah. To thank them and honor them, their favorite dishes have been named after them on the menu. Barnes says the menu is filled with traditional dishes from her and her husband's childhood with some twists.

WHY IT RATES

"The food at Eden Spice is cooked with love. I will tell someone to come and eat good food like grandma’s cooking — (it's) fresh," said Barnes. "I don’t like to brag but customers have told us we have the best Mac and cheese in the world. We have good reviews on Google and Facebook."

She's right. The reviews out there — although limited because most people don't know how terrific it is — are glowing.

They speak to the generously large portions, delicious, bold flavors and friendly, helpful service.

All true based on my experience.

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Jerk chicken anbd beans and rice is pictured.

Credit: Eden Spice

Theresa Barnes  and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Jerk chicken anbd beans and rice is pictured.

Credit: Eden Spice

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Jerk chicken anbd beans and rice is pictured.

Credit: Eden Spice

Credit: Eden Spice

The portions are so large you wonder if they made a mistake when the food arrives at the table. The sides are large enough to feed two people. And the best part is it's quantity AND quality for a very reasonable price. The food really is delicious.

Eden Spice is a great example of why you can't judge a book by it's cover.

It's modest at best and looks every bit of the old Subway restaurant it resides in. The orders are taken at the counter and when the food arrives at the table it is served up in to-go containers with plastic ware. The wait time to get the food is longer than you would think — especially considering that it feels so casual. But the time is spent creating a fresh dish that's made to order, prepared properly as you would expect in any better restaurant.

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THE MENU

And the food is the kind you would expect in that type of restaurant.

Theresa's Red Snapper ($17), served whole with the head (you can request to have it removed before it's brought out) was so terrific that I have found myself thinking of it several times since enjoying it several weeks ago. As you order proteins off the menu you pick the sauce it is topped with — BBQ, Bourbon, jerk, turmeric, Samenah's hot Buffalo, Samenah's mango ginger coconut, Samyatta's pepper chicken (made with peanut butter and spices), Samyattta's Curry or African stew made with onions, peppers, tomatoes and spices.

We opted for the stew based on Samyatta's recommendation and between the exciting flavors of that and of the fish it was a dish that was elevated and truly special.

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Red snapper and potato wedges are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

Theresa Barnes  and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019.  Red snapper and potato wedges are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

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Theresa Barnes and her family opened Eden Spice in early Jan. 2019. Red snapper and potato wedges are pictured.

Credit: Eden Garden

Credit: Eden Garden

Other highlights are Sam's curry goat ($17), Sam's Jerk goat ($17), Sam's goat Stew ($17) and Sam's oxtail ($17), all served with two sides.

The sides are also quite delicious, especially the mac and cheese ($5), the plantains ($4) and the coconut spinach ($4).

Vegetarians have plenty to choose from with the restaurants veggie-based dishes made with palm oil including African sweet potatoes ($12), stir fried okra ($12) or black eyed peas and garbanzo beans ($12), all served with the choice of rice or quinoa.

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Grandma Tenneh Papaya stew ($12) is an especially important, beloved dish to Barnes, based on the recipe that her grandmother would make for her as a child.

"All the women in my family are wonderful cooks, but my inspiration came from my late Aunty Eleanor. She was a super chef and event planner in our hometown (Bo Town) in Sierra Leone, West Africa," said Barnes. "In the African tradition, food brings everyone together. We eat to connect, share, and strengthen our bond. Those who have eaten the foods magically and wonderfully sculpted by my hands are now a part of our family. I welcome you into ours — one dish at a time."

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Theresa and Samuel Barnes, the owners of Eden Spice.

Theresa and Samuel Barnes, the owners of Eden Spice.

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Theresa and Samuel Barnes, the owners of Eden Spice.

Barnes says she and her husband "are going to share our childhood with our customers" when she serves her chicken stew with jollof rice ($12), cabbage and palm oil black eyed peas with plantains ($12) at the upcoming Ethnosh event.

These are dishes you don't have to attend the Noshup to try. They are there for you anytime you want to try something different.

"You need to eat well to nourish your body. My mother taught me to spend more on good food and spent less on clothes," Barnes said.

Now that's good advice.

Contact contributing writer Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com.

WANT TO GO?

What: Eden Spice

Where: 501 E. Dixie Drive, West Carrollton

Hours: Open 4-8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Noon- 9 p.m. Saturdays, closed Sunday and Monday

More information: (937) 247-9116 or https://edenspicedayton.com

Pro tip: The food at Eden Spice will take around 20 minutes to come out — more if there is a crowd in the restaurants. Call ahead to get your order in and bypass the wait.

About Ethnosh Dayton: Ethnosh launched in Dayton on Oct. 13 at Olive Mediterranean Grill and has since visited Nanyea Restaurant Coffee House & Bar, La Costeñita, Prems Channai Delight and Salar.

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