Ethiopian Cafe: Ethiopian Food, Not Ethiopian Coffee

Full disclosure, I’m writing these blogs a bit out of chronological order. I don’t really know why, but the first restaurant that Jackson and I go to together is not The Frogmore, nor is it Captain Nemo’s, but I want to post the blogs in street order. In reality, the first place Jackson and I go together is Ethiopian Cafe. I bet you’ll never guess what kind of food they serve.

As an aside, what are your thoughts about eating establishments calling themselves “cafes”? To be honest, not my favorite. I tend to get excited about trying out some new local coffee shop, only to find out it’s a brunch spot or an overly priced Italian joint. Can’t the FDA regulate usage of the term “cafe” like they do with “organic”? It would just make it easier to have realistic expectations, you know?

But I guess it’s not as bad as Yely’s Coffe Shop. Not even close to a coffee shop. But maybe that’s why they misspelled it. All in a clever plot to avoid being cited by the feds. Smart.

Ethiopian Cafe is indeed not an establishment that serves coffee. Well, perhaps they do; I didn’t check. But that’s certainly not their specialty. As you might imagine, they serve Ethiopian food. 

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We aren’t sure what this is. Jackson thinks it’s to hold keys. I don’t see why not.

Now, I’ve had Ethiopian food once or twice, and while I don’t dislike it, it’s not my favorite either. It looks and smells close enough to Indian food, which I love, but it tastes too different for me to really get on board. It always leaves me craving Indian food. But I’m still excited about this spot. I feel like we’re starting to get into the more culinarily interesting part of Centre Street.

As might be surmised by the simplicity of the name, the establishment itself is not really trying to impress. It’s small, simple and neat, probably only seating 20-25 people. But tonight, there are only two other groups of people, though one is a bit raucous, cutting too stark a contrast against the quiet innocence of the restaurant’s atmosphere.

The quiet man, who I assume is Ethiopian, but I fail to ask, comes over to our small table and asks us what we would like. I immediately ask him what the best thing on the menu is. He is quick with his answer, recommending the meat combo for two ($30). We get to choose two of the three meat options: yesiga wet (spicy beef), yesiga alicha (not-spicy beef), and doro wet (spicy chicken). We go for the yesiga alicha and the doro wet. The platter comes with all of the vegetable options offered on the menu. It’s a good way to get an understanding of the offerings. 

We also order the Berz Be-Berele ($4.99), which is a traditional Ethiopian drink made with honey and soda water served from a vase-like glass vessel called a Berele. It looks almost like a flask you might have used in high school chemistry. I’m not too enthused about the price tag on these bad boys, but I end up liking the drink. It is very sweet with a strong taste of honey (surprise surprise), and has a sort of ginger ale vibe. 

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Berz Be-Berele. Unique and exciting, if a bit overpriced.

With the air of a connoisseur, Jackson smacks his lips and says, “It’s a little tangy. You can taste the honey kick after you drink it. It’s okay. I wouldn’t get it again.”

He’s right about the kick at the end. It has a surprising burn as it goes down the throat. As for getting it again, I’m a little torn. I really enjoy the drink, but it’s hard to justify $5 for that. 

Then the food comes out. The various foods are in small piles set upon this massive pancake-looking bread. It’s sort of the equivalent of naan that you have with Indian food as you rip off pieces and eat the food with it.

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Lots of variety with this meal!

But the texture is like a very bubbly pancake with a lot more chew. It’s a rather weird texture if you’ve never tried it but not bad. What I love about it is that you get to eat with your hands. The first time I ever ate food with my hands (not like pizza or wings, but more along the lines of rice or curry) was with some friends I made in college who were from Nepal. They invited me over to their apartment and cooked me some Nepalese food and taught me the proper way to eat the rice dish with my hands. It immediately became my favorite way to eat food. It’s one of the reasons I love Indian food so much. As such, being able to eat this meal with my hands is an immediate plus. 

The chicken has a small spicy kick, but it’s not too bad. The flavor is strong. The chicken comes with bones in it, but the meat is so tender that it just falls right off the bone. I like big flavor and tender chicken, so I’m definitely on board, but as I mentioned before, the flavor combinations just leave something to be desired for me.

Jackson says that it kinda tastes like curry, with which I agree. But he doesn’t like it. He also found two of my hairs in his food, which didn’t exactly encourage him to keep trying. Whoops.

The beef is rather bland, but still tastes good. I would have liked to try the spicy beef. Jackson decides not to try the beef, even though I think he would actually like it. 

There is a variety of vegetables on the plate as well. I try them all but am not very enthused about any of them. I won’t bore you with the details, but it is just okay in my book.

Overall, the place is quaint and quiet (minus the rowdy group of twenty-somethings in the corner) with friendly staff. After one interaction with the server (who might also be the owner), Jackson offers, “He’s nice.” That sums it up nicely. Even with the food. It’s nice. Not phenomenal but nice. If you are into Ethiopian food, you might have a higher opinion of it, but I can’t quite get into it. 

Based on Jackson’s reaction (nice rhyme, Luke), I can’t say that Ethiopian Cafe is kid friendly. I can certainly say that I would not have been as willing to try it as a kid as he is. 

All that said, if people wanted to eat there, I would join, but I wouldn’t make the suggestion. So while I can’t say that I wouldn’t go back, I also wouldn’t seek it out.

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