Like many restaurants on Georgia Avenue, Sandovan’s Restaurant and Lounge often serves double duty on the weekends when it turns into a live music and dancing venue. But when I came on a Thursday night, it was to try the food.
For years, Sweet Mango Café on the corner of Georgia Avenue and New Hampshire had been my go-to Caribbean spot, but it’s been closed for a while now and with so many great options in Petworth, I needed to find a restaurant to replace it. Sandovan’s, located at 4809 Georgia Avenue NW, could definitely be that place.
A few friends joined me for this meal, and as we walked in we were immediately greeted by Donovan, one of the owners. As he was seating us I inquired about the origin of the name Sandovan and he laughingly acknowledged that it sounded more Latin than Jamaican, but was actually a mashing together of his name, along with his wife Sandra’s name.
Unfortunately, Sandra wasn’t there that night, but there was a welcoming wooden placard they had both placed on the wall declaring to their patrons that “We Truly Appreciate You - Sandra and Donovan.”
Donovan suggested we start off the meal with jerk chicken wings and coco bread. The wings were heavily sauced and had a really nice, but not overpowering kick to them. The coco bread was soft and delicious. My major disappointment was that not enough of the sauce had fallen off the wings and pooled up so that I could dip the bread.
The jerk would have worked well with every item we ordered, and I should have just ordered a ramekin of it on the side. It was that good.
For my main course I had the ackee and saltfish ($15), a dish I’d never had before. When I asked Donovan if it was any good, he gave me his politest “You must be kidding...” expression and explained in a friendly way that it was Jamaica’s national dish, and that yes, it is very good.
The fish was flaky and perfectly seasoned, mixed with onions, tomatoes and ackee, a fruit native to West Africa that has a buttery texture with a mild savory flavor.
The ackee was so interesting that I began thinking about trying to prepare it myself, but after some Googling, found out that if not prepared correctly it can be poisonous. I definitely plan on eating it again, just not at home.
My friends who joined ordered the curry goat ($11) and the jerk chicken entrée ($8.50). Both dishes were excellent, and I was able to dunk the coco bread in to the curry. Each dish came with two sides, and arrived with enough food to guarantee there would be leftovers for lunch the next day. The fried plantains were delicious and the steamed cabbage had a nice complex flavor, but the rice and peas were the stand out side dish for everyone.
Sandovan’s uses basmati rice, which is higher quality and tastes better than white rice. It was perfectly cooked and not over-seasoned. For anyone who has made rice, it can be difficult to prevent it from turning to mush. It’s also something that can’t really be made to order at a restaurant, so it’s hard to keep it from getting hard.
The meat was excellent, too, without too much fat or gristle, while still be extremely flavorful. Donovan said it’s because he uses halal meat, a process that maintains certain quality standards in the handling of the animal. While not identical, many of the standards are similar to the kosher certification that Jewish people use for their meat.
He made it clear that he serves the type of food that he wants to eat, with the ingredients he and his wife would want to serve their children, and often do, because they come by the restaurant a few days a week.
Donovan also shared that Sandovan’s had recently received a Great Streets Small Business Grant from the city, which they plan to use to upgrade the dining area and bathrooms. It’s nice to see programs that help small family businesses grow and improve in action, and I’m looking forward to coming back once the upgrades are done.
I would also come back just to eat wings and have a few beers during happy hour (4pm-8pm); the special is three beers for $10.
Stop by and try for yourself, they also offer carryout service.
Sandovan’s Restaurant & Lounge
4809 Georgia Ave NW