Activities / Restaurants and Eateries

Café Jo Brown – a Long Street experience not to be missed

Updated Sunday, 29 January 2017

Café Jo Brown might lie just off the top end of Long Street in Buiten Street, in Cape Town’s thriving City Bowl, but in truth its flavour, personality and fresh faced candor means it deserves to take its place on Long Street, in amongst the stream of other dinstinctly African flavoured eateries.

I park on the corner of Long Street and Buiten and, after paying the car attendant what seems an inordinate amount of cash considering that this is a street and not undercover parking at a mall, begin to amble up the little side road that is Buiten, in search of Judah’s Café Jo Brown – a friend of mine has recommended we try it …

It isn’t hard to find, despite the lack of proper signage. The sounds of reggae form the backdrop to the Rasta-flavoured little eatery that used to be a Chinese takeaway – Judah assures me that they’re working on a proper sign to replace the Chinese letters that mislead passersby, but points to the beautiful glass mosaic name plaque that has pride of place on the window just above the tables that grace the pavement outside his place.

At one of the tables Judah, his dreadlocks encased in a jocular, black chef’s hat and accompanying black apparel, is already chatting to a young red-haired visitor to Cape Town, his guide book opened to a page on the Kalahari as Judah entertains him with an enthusiastic description of the area of which he is so personally fond.

We decide to sit inside as the street outside is not yet in sunlight and the day is still crisp enough to warrant bundling up. The restaurant is small. It is rather like stepping into Judah’s home kitchen – he serves, cooks and entertains.

Café Jo Brown
Photographs – Left: Judah outside Café Jo Brown / Centre: Curbside black board / Right: Vege Burger at Café Jo Brown

There is a couch alongside a table, a countertop against the window with accompanying bar stools and a couple of chairs against the counter, where someone else is catching up on the daily local papers after dropping off a delivery – Judah’s restaurant seems to have that effect on people – they’re constantly dropping in to greet him, or hanging around after dropping supplies. It’s a hive of activity despite being a week day.

We study the interior. Against two of the walls are pictures of Emperor Haile Selassie, the man Rastafarians regard as the ‘King of Kings’, the Emperor of Ethiopia between 1930 and 1974, and an incarnation of Jah (Jehovah) on Earth – the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs with a direct lineage back to Solomon. His reported death in 1975 is regarded as a hoax as his body is believed never to have been found.

Another of Judah’s friends arrives on a skate board. It is his lunch break and he stands in the midst of the room explaining to us the origins of the Emperor and his meaning for the Rastas. The food on the restaurant’s chalk board menu reflects this Rastafarian influence – many Rastas eat in accordance with the dietary laws of the Old Testament and most of them abstain from all meat and flesh. Hence everything on the menu is vegetarian and no alcohol is served.

The rest of the menu includes a variety of smoothies, African and Ethiopian blends of coffee as well as an Espresso blend, teas that include buchhu, mint, chai, rooibos and honeybush, muffins, and a more than thoroughly yummy range of handmade meals that feature wheatfree wraps with a number of fillings, falafel, vegetarian burger and a vegan apple crumble for dessert. And all reasonably priced as well.

Café Jo Brown
Photograph: Inside Café Jo Brown

After some discussion over the day’s menu, to find out just how certain of the meals are presented, Judah disappears into the back to make our orders – the falafel and the vegetarian burger. He makes everything virtually from scratch, but manages not to take longer than most restaurants would take, despite doing it all himself.

He pops his head out to ask us about a version of the smoothie we have ordered and then returns to the task at hand, finally bearing our meals proudly to the table. The food is delicious, both dishes, and as we eat, he entertains us to stories and serves tea to a couple outside on the street, who are visiting Cape Town from the Kalahari (if the red-haired visitor had just hung around for a little longer…)

Another friend arrives, hands his bags over for Judah to watch for him, whilst muttering as he disappears quickly to empty his head of the burning poem that needs to be written before he forgets it. He laughingly tries to explain his dilemma to us, but we can see that he needs to expend as little energy as possible or he will lose his words entirely. We smile quietly at the total disparity between the refreshing sponteneity of this Rasta eaterie and the rather remote discernment of the prevailing restaurant in Cape Town.

I wish there were more restaurants like this in Cape Town, that give one a taste of real food, made by real people. I remember when we visited Melbourne in Oz, we stumbled on a corner café that had a similar feel. There were bar stools at which to sit at the counter, rather than tables and chairs, and you watched the chefs preparing your wonderful vegetarian choices right in front of you – much of the food was in bowls and containers under the counter where you could choose them. Judah’s restaurant reminds me a little of this.

Café Jo Brown is open from early until the last patrons have finished their meals. You will find it on the right-hand side of Buiten Street, with Long Street behind you.

Café Jo Brown
Photographs – Left: 210 on Long / Long Street from the corner of Buiten

An added benefit to the meal is using the loo at 210 on Long Street, just round the corner – a fairly new sustainable shopping experience that houses conscious retailers in its eco-friendly building and includes an afro hair salon, Baobab Books, Hemporium and Filth Clothing. They have late night shopping, so you don’t have to worry about the loo being out of action.

City Bowl Links

Cafe Jo Brown Contact Details

Address: 4a Buiten Street, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town; Telephone: +27 (0)21 424-0920