Head to Westfield Montgomery mall’s dining terrace, make a beeline for Malia’s Kitchen, a seafood-centric soul food eatery that opened there in September, and heed this advice: Get the crab. Doesn’t matter if it’s as a fried or baked cake made with 8 ounces of lump crab meat or as a “pie.” The pie is 7½ ounces of super lump crab meat—barely held together with seasonings, butter and a prayer—piled into a foil bowl, baked and topped with Malia sauce, a mayo and ketchup-based sauce with Old Bay, lemon pepper, garlic and other seasonings. (The crabcake is bound with that sauce.) There’s no filler to be found in these dishes, only Venezuelan crab meat and plenty of it.
Behind the counter of the 500-square-foot stall is chef and owner Adonis Adams, who oversees every plate to make sure it’s perfect and gives nurturing instructions to an eager staff like he did in a phone interview with me. “How’s that roux? Do the collards need anything? Let me taste them,” he said to a cook during our chat. “I know what they need. More lemon pepper and my garlic mix.” Adams makes three proprietary spice mixes that he uses liberally in his cooking: garlic, lemon pepper and seafood. A hallmark of his cooking is that every dish is highly seasoned, from the coating of crispy fried whiting to side dishes such as fluffy hushpuppies, ultra cheesy (sharp and mild cheddar, Havarti, smoked Gouda) macaroni and cheese and baked beans.
Adams, 51, lives in Bethesda’s Fernwood neighborhood. Cooking is in the family—he helped his mother, Roberta Hillary, run a Cheverly, Maryland-based catering business for 25 years, having learned to cook from her and her mother. Hillary retired in 2017, so Adams took the reins and turned the business into a food truck, naming it after his elder daughter, now 17. (His other job is IT consulting, which he did while serving in the Army from 1989 to 1994.) Just before COVID, Adams sold the truck and opened a larger one. While at the mall earlier this year, a fortuitous conversation with a manager there, who explained they were looking to support local, family-run businesses, led to landing the brick-and-mortar space. He now uses the truck for catering gigs only. “We are overjoyed to have [Adonis] there. He’s hyper-local—he lives practically in our backyard,” says Zeina Davis, Westfield Montgomery’s marketing director. “It speaks to the growing diversity we are seeing in the mall. We are honored that he chose us.”
Adams offers dishes as combos (with one side) or dinners (with two sides and a drink). In addition to the crabcake ($22 combo), crab pie ($28, sold as a dinner only) and whiting ($16 combo), other menu items include crab mac and cheese ($18 combo), colossal fried shrimp ($22 combo) and pulled pork ($14 combo) or chopped smoked brisket ($16 combo) sandwiches. For dessert, try sweet potato pie or banana pudding ($6).
Adams says he’s planning to inaugurate Sunday soul food brunch (it may be happening by the time you read this), featuring such dishes as sweet potato pancakes, shrimp and grits, shrimp etouffee and salmon cakes.
Malia’s Kitchen, 7101 Democracy Blvd. (Westfield Montgomery mall), Bethesda, 301-792-3332, maliaskitchen.com
David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.
This story appears in the November/December 2022 issue of Bethesda Magazine.