That Time I Went to a Panamanian Restaurant and Almost Left Brokenhearted


In this age of foot-faced presidential swampdonkeys, culture vulturing ho-ass racial stowaways, and mediocrity-masking alternative facts, a number of things are inarguable:

  1. Shawn is the LaTavia of the Wayans clan.
  2. The rent is too damn high.
  3. While Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes are wretched, gorgeous bite-sized tragedies, their banana pudding might could fix Ben Carson.
  4. Withholding gravy is a crime against humanity.

Argue with deez nuts.

Gravy—sauce in general, technically—is a gift from Almighty Saint Damita Jo Jackson, the First, and must be given abundantly. Always. Sure, a bombastic curry chicken situation can be delicious. But bathe that same chicken appendage in a majestic sauce situation, and it becomes life-changing. The right gravy could help En Vogue quit the silly shit, axe that rebound so and so lady, get it the fuck together, and continue being great together, rather than split into blessing-blocking bickering factions.

Which brings me to my latest dance with disappointment.

Every now and then, when life gets unjiggy, I hop on a magic school bus to Washington, DeeCee and hibernate in the wilderness (usually my homegirl’s house in Hyattsville, Murrland) for a few days to recharge. There is much rest. And a fireplace beside which we drink ginger tea and luxuriate, laugh, and plot greatness. New York can be skressful, and sometimes, I need a break from the cat-rats, sidewalk-blocking tourists, and wayward Eugenes on Citibikes.

And there is always food. On a recent trip, I began a steamy affair with the glorious fried catfish sammich at America’s Best Wings in DeeCee. Fish sammiches remind me of growing up in Hampton, where I’ve eaten about 92,000 fish sandwiches in my life. Bonus points for the sensible, sturdy bun. With some french fries with some Old Bay?



It’s now part of my self-care tool kit. But that’s not why we’re gathered here today.


As my sisterfriend and I are both halfroPanamanian, we’d been curious about what appeared to be the only Panamanian restaurant in DC, Esencias Panemañas, over by Howard where the brawny young tenderonis roam. It was spacious, bright, colorful, and empty. The tables were decorated with drawings of molas, the colorful traditional embroidery and women’s blouses made and sold by the Kuna Indians in San Blas, Panama. The walls had photos of Panamanian and a map of the provinces. She was real cute.

I was absolutely famished, my nigga. After much internal turmoil, I went with the rabo de buey, oxtail with onions, peppers, and a tomato chutney moment, atop some white rice, maduros (fried sweet plantains) and “micro greens,” which, SPOILER ALERT: were nowhere to be seen in my bowl. (see picture at the top)


To their credit, we arrived minutes after the lunch special had ended, and were initially told we’d have to get the dinner portions. We deflated. Our waitress disappeared into the kitchen and returned to tell us the chef gave the thumbs up for the lunch menu. Boom.

Okay, so the rice worked. This is no small feat. I’ve been working on my rice for thirty-two years. They got the plantain right. Thankfully. Because all plantain is not created equally. But that first bite of oxtail was like an employer-mandated likeability- and executive shitbaggery-focused weekend retreat led by Sean Spicer: arduous. Sure, there was a splash of gravy on the rice, and the meat wasn’t quite Madonna-well-of-creativity level dry, but they could have at least used more sauce to distract from the Taebo workout required to enjoy it. Dry oxtail just feels hateful. It’s hard enough being a Black-ass freelancing homothug here in the land of anusmouthed dumpsterhearted demagogues. I don’t need to struggle with my oxtail. Give us us free.


If I had to fight through the larger dinner portion, disappointed but smiling through it anyway, I would really be getting my Angry Black Man on right now.

My homegirl enjoyed her arroz con pollo and yuca al mojo (yuca in a garlic and onion sauce), though. Oh, and the tamale appetizer was muy delicioso and reminded me of the sacks of tamales my grandmother used to bless us with back in the day. Yet another thing I must master to tuck into my Good Husband Toolkit, for later.


When researching the restaurant, we saw a few posts about their Ron Abuelo cake. Ron Abuelo is the rum that sponsored many of my poor decisions while living in Panama. (That, and my newfound embrace of reefer.) Their food was well received but that damn cake was clearly the star of the show. The Janet in a room of Britneys, if you will. I’m rarely excited by liquor-bearing desserts, but since I was in my feelings about being assaulted by the aggressive, hateful wintery fuckshit outside, I needed something to remind me of sunshine and happiness in Panama.

We ordered one to share. I was skeptical, having just slain dragons and fought for a fortnight to get into that rough-and-tough oxtail meat. But unlike Meek Mill, that cake is a winner. ‘Twas roughly the size of a large muffin. Warm, light, airy, and just sweet enough. I tasted the rum. I don’t know how I missed that they had homemade Grapenut ice cream (before you make a screwface, bitch, it’s amazing), but that would have set the whole motherfucker all the way off. Still, it was like paid bills, booty rubs, and an A Different World marathon down pon the fireplace on a cloudy day. I instantly regretted sharing. It saved the day.


I need to have that cake in my life every time I’m in town. That’s going to be somebody’s birthday gift. We asked, and it’s available as a nine-inch or half-sheet. And perhaps one day while strung out on reefer, I’ll order a niner for myself and gain some more cushion as a result and I’m totally fine with that.

The lesson here is: always ask for more gravy and if they refuse, call Homeland Security.

Alexander Hardy is a wordsmith, mental health advocate, dancer, lupus survivor, and co-host of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Alexander does not believe in snow or Delaware.


Anyone know of any articles written on the retrospective of Prince's latter work? I'm not really interested in reading another Purple Rain or Sign of the Times retrospective. I am curious how people feel about the back end of his career.