Atlanta Orders In: With a 10-year head start, Toyin has mastered the art of Nigerian takeout

Toyin takeout: egusi (melon-seed stew) with beef and goat and okra stew with whiting and cow’s leg.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Toyin takeout: egusi (melon-seed stew) with beef and goat and okra stew with whiting and cow’s leg. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Toyin Adesayo got into catering after moving to Atlanta from Nigeria in 2002. Though trained as an architect, she realized she could make money serving the kind of home cooking the Nigerian-American community craved: spicy red jollof rice, egusi (a stew made from dried and ground melon seeds), and fufu, a white-yam smash traditionally eaten out of hand with the soups and stews of West Africa.

Her cooking was such a hit that, in 2010, she and her partner, Abdul Kokumo, decided to open her namesake restaurant in Marietta. According to Kokumo, Toyin (aka Toyin Takeout) is unique among local Nigerian restaurants in that it always has employed a fast-casual model. “Most Nigerians are very busy,” he said. “Most Nigerians are working, and want to pick up their food. We are not used to going to dine in and spending 30 minutes to order our food.”

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A takeout feast from Toyin: Clockwise from upper left: fufu, iyan, and moin moin; jollof rice with fried plantains and beef; okra stew with braised whiting and cow’s leg; egusi with beef and goat.
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A takeout feast from Toyin: Clockwise from upper left: fufu, iyan, and moin moin; jollof rice with fried plantains and beef; okra stew with braised whiting and cow’s leg; egusi with beef and goat. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

With their mostly to-go format, the couple was ahead of its time — and way, way in front of the pandemic. Though COVID-19 took its toll on business early on, Kokumo said the tide has turned. “Right now, everything has started picking up again. We have a lot of people ordering now, especially online.”

In another stroke of good fortune, Toyin perfected its online-ordering platform late last year, some months before the pandemic. The biggest recent snag has been a delay in the development of a line of frozen Toyin classics that the restaurant is creating in partnership with the University of Georgia’s Food Product Innovation & Commercialization Center in Griffin. The goal is to sell the products at local supermarkets. “By the grace of God, it will happen next year,” Kokumo said.

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Abdul Kokumo and Toyin Adesayo are the owners of Toyin in Marietta. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Abdul Kokumo and Toyin Adesayo are the owners of Toyin in Marietta. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

As an on-again-off-again food writer of more than two decades, I like to think I’ve tried just about everything. And, yet, I’ve barely scratched the surface of West African cuisine. (Mea culpa!) So, before my visit to Toyin, I consulted with an American friend who lived in Nigeria for a year, and a well-versed local food critic, who told me always to try the jollof and egusi when ordering Nigerian.

More than anything, Nigerian food is known for its spice. That, I could see in the takeout containers of bright red jollof; okra stew; and egusi I brought home. None of the food was incendiary, though I did eschew the efo riro (spinach stew), which Kokumo described as “on the hotter end,” and the ayamase stew, made with a variety of meats. Kokumo told me it’s off-the-charts hot. “If you can handle that, you can handle anything.”

The owners of Toyin are working with the University of Georgia’s Food Product Innovation & Commercialization Center to develop a line of frozen meals, hopefully in stores next year. Courtesy of Toyin
The owners of Toyin are working with the University of Georgia’s Food Product Innovation & Commercialization Center to develop a line of frozen meals, hopefully in stores next year. Courtesy of Toyin

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Here’s my report:

Jollof: The version served here, with fried plantains (dodo) and choice of two proteins (I got the beef and a boiled egg) was transcendent, with just a hint of smoke and fish. Yes, jollof is made with chiles, but that’s not what makes it so vivid. It’s the tomatoes. Chef Adesayo’s red rice was mild and comforting. Big thumbs up.

Egusi: The melon seeds are ground and stewed into a fine grainy mess that looks a bit like scrambled tofu, though the texture is somewhat firmer. Toyin’s egusi is made with salt fish (watch out for the tiny bones!) and spinach. I found the flavors intriguing, unlike anything I’ve tasted before. Recommended.

Okra stew: Here’s where the meal went a little off course. I’m a serious okraholic. There just aren’t many treatments that I don’t love, but this concoction was noticeably slimy — like I couldn’t spoon it onto my plate without dribbling a bit of oleaginous goo onto the table. However, here’s the deal: If you can get past the texture, the flavor is memorable. I intend to eat my leftovers with a pot of plain white rice.

Moin moin: I got this as a random side, without any idea what I was in for. Turned out to be the sleeper hit of my meal. Moin moin is a steamed pudding made with ground black-eyed peas, peppers and onions. While I liked the fufu and the iyan (another starchy mash made with white yams), I truly can say, “more more” to the moin moin. I just hope the Toyin crew will offer it in its frozen food lineup.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Toyin co-owner Abdul Kokumo prepares a takeout order. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Toyin co-owner Abdul Kokumo prepares a takeout order. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

TOYIN

Menu: Nigerian

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: jollof rice with beef and boiled egg; okra stew with whiting fish, cow leg, and iyan (pounded yam); egusi stew with beef, goat and fufu; moin moin; side of dodo (plantains)

Service options: dine-in; takeout; delivery via GrubHub

Patio: no

Mask policy: employees wear masks; guests are “encouraged” to wear masks

Address, phone: 495 Pat Mell Road West, Marietta; 404-835-7702

Hours: 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays

Website: toyintakeout.com

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