“I’m off on the road to Morocco!” I hummed the catchy tune as Anne and I headed out Manchester to The Benevolent King. I mention the song, knowing that most of my readers have no idea what I’m talking about. After all, the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby/Dorothy Lamour “road shows” came out during The War. One verse in the ’40s ditty ends: “Like Webster’s Dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.” That line was funnier in the day of leather bound books, than it is in the day of auto spell checking.
Ben Poremba’s Food Kingdom
The Benevolent King is the brainchild of prolific restaurateur Ben Poremba. This time he’s taken on the role of executive chef and called in reinforcements: Chef Mom. Ben’s mother is, herself, a chef. She’s from Morocco and skilled in Moroccan-Isareli cuisine. (His parents recently moved to St. Louis.)
Even so, erase the thought that Ben is serving up authentic Moroccan fare. Herbs and spices of the region are added to the food, but each dish bears his signature touch of frivolity. You might call it the “Poremba Twist.” In a sense, Ben is returning to his roots—the food he ate in his mother’s kitchen—but with an overlay of his highly-applauded and much-awarded creativity.
Memories of Morocco
Put your taste buds on pause, while I reminisce a bit. Years ago I was in Tangier, Morocco, briefly, and still have fond memories of the African city with the gorgeous coastal views.
Shopping at the street bazaar was a grand adventure for a wide-eyed tourist, as was sitting on pillows, savoring exotic new dishes. I definitely remember the humpy-bumpy ride on a very wet camel at the tourist “camel-go-round”—it had just rained. My dromedary and I bonded along the path as we took on a common smell.
I’ll never forget the carpet salesman, who followed me down three flights of stairs and out the door, lowering the price several times along the way. Or the trinket-seller, who walked at my elbow for some distance, hawking a shiny brass camel, that I should take home. It was all part of the bizarre experience of bazaar shopping.
I finally bought a leather hassock that, as I look down, I see my feet propped upon at this very moment. Okay, so much for the memories. Forgive me, I didn’t mean to turn this review into a travelog. Back to the main event . . . .
What’s in a Name
The Benevolent King pays tribute to a former Moroccan monarch known for his kindness. What a clever idea! I like names that are anchored in history. Kudos to Ben for coming up with a restaurant name I don’t have to think about to spell or pronounce: (Elaia, Olio, Nixta, Parigi, La Patisserie Chouquette can be tongue twisters.).
The Benevolent King reminds me of those French cafes with their undersize kitchens and cozy dining rooms. It all goes to prove Ben can turn anyplace into fine dining space if given some vegetables, a stove, and a few spices. (Olio was a former gas station; Nixta once a stable; and Elaia, the second floor of an old house.)
The menu is abbreviated (a half-dozen large plates and about 8 smaller ones) and will change frequently, depending on the season and Ben’s inspiration.
The Benevolent King. 7268 Manchester Road in Maplewood. Open: Tue-Thu 5p-11p and Fri-Sat 5p-1a.