Peli Peli pivots for our current world. New menu, lower prices, new branding. We check out the new direction.
We’ve long been fans of Peli Peli, the Houston original that brings the food and flavors of South Africa to our fair city. It’s an establishment that we’ve felt comfortable recommending to pretty much anyone; the food is unique, but not so far outside the box as to put off less adventurous diners. The only caveat we’ve had with Peli Peli is that it’s not inexpensive; it’s more of an event destination than part of the regular rotation for most folks.
The smart guys who run Peli Peli realized that in our current COVID-19 world, customer are having a tough time; many folks simply don’t have the budget to splurge for a $50+ per person meal. So they’ve done the hard work to reposition their concept to be more accessible and more affordable, without sacrificing the unique flavors and high quality that has made Peli Peli a success for the past decade.
The result is a new version of Peli Peli. More casual. More affordable. Same creative kitchen pushing out unique dishes with bold flavors; outside the box, but not uncomfortably far outside. Even the name has been updated: They’re now “Peli Peli South African Kitchen”.
How’d they do? We were one of the first outside the management team to try the new menu and give them feedback. Here’s what we sampled, and our impressions.
One of the focuses of the new menu is on smaller dishes designed to be shared. We’re happy to report that these “smaller” portions aren’t small at all, a single one would make a satisfying meal for all but the biggest appetites. Priced between $10 and $20, these varied dishes are a great addition to your meal.
This signature sharable consists of large gulf shrimp in a cream garlic sauce topped with melted cheddar cheese, accompanied by garlic toast. The flavors have Chef Ryan’s signature boldness, and the cheesy/garlicy shrimp indulgently rich and delicious. This is a very promising start.
Another sharable; this time based on sliced beef. Trinchado is a staple in South Africa and features sliced ribeye in a creamy, garlicky white wine reduction sauce. (Chicken is also available.) Again, the sauce is the star of the show; the beautifully reduced garlic wine sauce imparted a Gallic lusciousness to the thinly sliced ribeye, creating a savory sharable that we were jousting for with our forks.
And now for something a bit different. Rissoles are a crunchy, portugese-style empanada. Our were filled with seasoned chicken and offered up with two more of Chef Ryan’s unique sauces: A smoked peppadew coulis and sweet boomslang chilli sauce. The crunchy empanada paired well with both the smoky coulis and the sweet/gently hot chili sauce to create a satisfying dish perfect for sharing.
Traditional entrees aren’t forgotten on the new Peli Peli menu. Ranging in price from the mid-teens to just over $30, these hearty meals represent a very good value for the quality and quantity of food served.
Cape Malay Crab Curry
A tropical vacation may not be in the cards this summer, but the Cape Malay Crab Curry offers the next best thing. A full pound of beautifully steamed snow crab is perched atop the rich, flavorful (but not overly hot) South African curry, a smooth, rich, coconut-forward creation. The result is mouthwatering, delectable, and more than a little messy. Fortunately, the team at Peli Peli is ready, with disposable overalls (soon to be a fashion trend) and finger cots designed to make sure you’re camera-ready after your meal is complete. A delicious mess has never been so guilt free.
Calamari, Chouriço and Olives
This Portuguese South African classic goes far beyond the typical calamari dish. The chef combines grilled calamari, Portuguese chorizo and green olives in a lemon butter garlic sauce, and the result will have you licking the dish. Ignore the stares of nearby diners; they’re just jealous.
Espetadas have been the signature entree at Peli Peli for as long as we can remember, and for good reason. This vertical, shish kebab is both dramatic and delicious, with a focus on expertly marinated protein accented by delicious sauce expertly paired to the meat. Peli Peli has added a juicy, tender ribeye option. Ten ounces of high quality ribeye, grilled to temperature (rare, please) and slathered with an addictive garlic butter sauce. Remarkably, this healthy portion of ribeye and two sides costs $28, an exceptional value for the steak lover.
The Shebeen Menu is similar in concept to the bar menu you’ll find in many upscale restaurants. Here you’ll find remarkable values on slightly smaller dishes. We’ve seen this concept done as a bar menu or a lunch menu, but rarely available in any seat at any time. Kudos to Peli Peli for thinking outside the box and giving patrons these delicious, high-value options at any time.
We’re generally drawn toward simpler, unsauced burgers, but The JoBurger is an exception to the rule. A thick, hearty custom ground patty (actually a South African meatball recipe called frikadelle) is topped with Gouda cheese, crispy onion strings, and a unique sauce: a tropical barbecue / peppadew remoulade combination. Somehow… it works. It works well. The rich, flavorful sauce beautifully complements the hefty slab of grilled beef, and the Gouda gives just enough creaminess to balance things out. This is a cravable burger available nowhere else; we’ll be back for this bad boy, and often.
Take a generous serving of strips of seared ribeye steak on a soft toasted hoagie bun, brushed with garlic butter and drizzled with red wine cream sauce, and you get the Prego Sandwich, a sophisticated spin on the traditional steak sandwich (or French Dip.) This garlicy creation will satisfy a steak lover who’s looking for something a bit lighter (but still filling.)
Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich
Fried chicken sandwiches are a hot trend in 2020, and Peli Peli weighs in with its contestant. A beautifully crispy fried breast of chicken is hoisted on a garlic toasted brioche bun with peppadew rémoulade, Roma tomatoes, red onion, romaine lettuce, and peli peli sticky toffee sauce. The result is a savory chicken sandwich with lots of flavor, including subtle hints of sweetness. It’s a well conceived creation that will send competitors scrambling back to the drawing board.
Fish and Chips
This lunch classic is all about execution, and the chefs at Peli Peli deliver. A thick fillet of perfectly cooked cod is beer battered, deep fried, and served with Peli Peli’s superb peppadew remoulade sauce. Malt vinegar is available for the purists, but don’t pass up Chef Ryan’s addictive sauce.
The COVID-19 crisis creates numerous challenges for restauranteurs, and the savvy team at Peli Peli have put together a clever response to this difficult situation. From the flavors to the portions to the price point, we think that Peli Peli South African Kitchen has hit the bullseye with a refined concept and new menu that will satisfy patrons during this stressful time. Whether you’re dining in or carrying out, Peli Peli deserves a spot in your regular rotation. We can’t wait to get back!
South African Cuisine in an upscale, modern setting
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