The other week, a friend and I were driving in Lexington, Kentucky. Looking for a restaurant, we were expecting to see typical southern cuisine and lots of barbeque places. To our surprise, the first place we encountered was a Guinese restaurant. Not the first kind of food that comes to mind when one thinks of Lexington.
Sav’s Grill has an interesting story of its founding. It’s about the spirit of volunteerism, love, and the merging of two cultures. Savane Altieke or “Sav,” the owner, grew up in the impoverished west African nation of Guinea. He learned to cook in his town. There, he met a Peace Corps volunteeer. He fell in love, and the two moved back to her hometown of Lexington. Speaking little English, Sav delivered packages for UPS for over a decade. He cooked West African food for his block party to raving neighbor reviews. He had the idea to open his own restaurant. Then in 2008, he jumped into entrepreneurship. He refinanced his house and started Sav’s Grill, the place of West African cuisine.
We tried the peanut goat which is local goat meat with tender chunky potatoes in a natural peanut based seasoned vegetable broth. I especially liked the Attieke salad. Attiéké is a staple food of Ivory Coast and is a couscous made from cassava, a root vegetable. I noticed similarities between southern cuisine and west African cuisine in the cheesy grits, creamy mashed potatoes and fried plantains.
Observing the unique decor of the restaurant and its unlikely beginnings, I thought about the irony of trying Guinese food in a city not typically known for its international cuisine. I also thought about the immigrant experience to the US and what it must mean to leave behind everything to come to a new land. I found an interview with the restaurant’s owner at the University of Kentucky oral history project, which you can listen to here.