By Jessica Oates
Diva’s Kitchen is unlike any other restaurant in Hamilton, and that is why its owners believe it will survive despite a location some would consider difficult.
The eatery opened five months ago at 2614 Quakerbridge Road—it shares a property line with Bill’s Olde Tavern—serving food native to Senegal and West Africa. The family-run restaurant is owned by Hadidiatou “Khady” Rosado, but is named for Khady’s sister, Diva Cisse, who designs the menu and prepares every dish that comes out of the kitchen.
Cisse, who also received formal culinary education in her homeland, learned to cook at a very young age.
“In my country, when you are 6 or 7 years old, your mother will send you to the market with a list,” she said. “You may not be able to read it all, but you show it to the people at the market and they will help you find what you need. Then we start practicing the recipes.”
Khady’s husband, Thom Rosado, manages the front of house—his personality suited to interacting with customers. Rosado maintains an optimistic outlook regarding the restaurant’s location, just off the busy Five Points intersection in a building that has had a lot of turnover.
“We are doing everything we can to get people in the door and give them a positive experience that surpasses their expectations,” he said. “Everything is fresh and authentic. If people give us a try, they won’t be disappointed.”
Diva’s Kitchen serves a variety of very traditional Senegalese dishes and drinks. Located on the western side of Africa, Senegal has a cuisine with Northern African, French, and Portuguese influences. Because the predominant religion in the area is Islam, pork is not an ingredient commonly found in dishes from the area, and does not find its way onto the menu at Diva’s, either.
Customers can choose from plates of grilled lamb, fish and chicken as well as a variety of stews and curries. Savory plantains, white rice, brown rice and fried rice are popular side dishes. The restaurant also prepares and serves special drinks, smoothies and juices made from fresh ingredients like ginger, bissap flowers and baobab tree fruit, also known as monkey fruit. The baobab pods are dried into a powder and mixed with other ingredients like pineapple juice, resulting in a creamy, tangy drink.
All this is made by Cisse, who Rosado said runs the kitchen.
“For her, cooking is an art,” Rosado said. “The sisters have always had the desire to open a restaurant together. My wife knows the business end, and I help her with that, but Diva is especially talented in the kitchen.We couldn’t do it without her.”
Before Rosado immersed himself in the restaurant business, he was a busy commercial truck driver, but decided to take time off to help his wife and sister realize their dream. His wife, Khady, came to the United States, where she met Rosado, in 1999. Cisse joined her only recently.
Khady also owns a hair salon, Timas Fashion African Braiding on Reservoir Street in Trenton, where she invites her patrons to come and try the restaurant.
“It is a lot of work,” Rosado said of the restaurant, “but I am so proud of them. We are here everyday. We all have to be very hands on, doing a little bit of everything until we settle into a good routine.”
The family has high expectations for their new venture, hoping that they will stand out as the only restaurant in the area to offer such exotic fare. Traditionally, Senegalese cuisine is very spicy, but Cisse is happy to cook to her customers’ unique tastes.
The restaurant is simply decorated to accommodate diners. Take out is also popular, and Diva’s Kitchen has already catered events, as well. According to Rosado and Cisse, the most popular dishes are the grilled whole tilapia and grilled spiced lamb.
“You aren’t going to find food like this anywhere else in town,” Rosado said. “That is for certain.”
Diva’s Kitchen is located at 2614 Quakerbridge Road in Hamilton. Phone: (609) 981-7400. Web: facebook.com/senegasine.