6063 Montgomery Road
This family-owned and operated Ethiopian restaurant was originally known as East Africa Restaurant and was situated in a house up the street from the current location at the corner of Montgomery and Losantiville. Emanu, the restaurant's namesake, has developed quite a following since she left Africa and came to the United States in 1992, introducing her delicious, home made dishes to Cincinnatians.
The restaurant is tastefully decorated in tonal browns and exudes a spa-like tranquillity, even on a noisy Friday evening. And it can get noisy - the lack of soft furnishings in the room means there is little to absorb the sound.
There are two main components to Ethiopian cuisine: tsebhi/watt, which are stew-like dishes of vegetables or meat, and injera, which is a large, supple flatbread on which the tsebhi/watt is served. The helpful guidelines on the menu state that the injera functions as both the platter and the utensil; bits of it are torn off and wrapped around the tsebhi/watt so that there is no need for cutlery.
The menu is small but varied, with several vegetarian/vegan entrées to choose from:
Ahmelti (Gomen) - collard greens and lightly spiced cabbage with onions and peppers.
Ades (Misir-Watt) - split lentils stewed in a thick, mild red sauce
Hiwswas (Beyayneti)- a combination of ahmelti/gomen and ades/misir-watt, with the addition of creamy yellow lentils, and carrots with beans.
I opted for the Hiwswas/Beyayneti combination platter, which at $13 is a good way to sample all the vegetarian/vegan dishes the restaurant has to offer. Food is served family style on top of a single injera, so if there are meat-eaters in the group it is wise to request the vegetarian option separately lest the juices from the meat dishes mingle with and foul the vegetables.
Having never tried Ethiopian cuisine I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the dishes reminiscent of southern soul food, which is not surprising given its historical nature, but also of Indian cuisine. The carrot and green bean selection, for instance, had hints of ginger and cardamom, while the ades/misir-watt was similar to a mildly spiced masoor dal.
The divergence of cultures lies in the bread. Instead of southern corn bread or Indian naan, here it is injera, which is unlike anything I have encountered before. It's made by mixing together teff flour (a gluten-free, high-fiber grain found in Northeast Africa), and warm water, which is then allowed to ferment for several days at room temperature before salt is added. A little of the thin batter is poured then into a lightly oiled hot pan and swirled around until the entire surface is covered. The batter is returned to the heat so that the moisture can evaporate and when tiny indentions appear on the surface of the bread it is ready. It looks similar to a crepe, but is very stretchy and has a slightly sour taste. The odd texture may be off-putting to some, but the use is similar to a tortilla and I found that the various dishes had a wider dimension of flavor when wrapped in it than not.
The restaurant offers several types of dessert, including sorbet, baklava, cream cheese pies and pound cake. The options vary and popular items sell out quickly, so it’s a good idea to order your dessert at the same time as your entrée to ensure that it will be available. I missed out on the amazing honey cream cheese pie – although Food Hussy was kind enough to let me sample hers – and opted instead for the apricot pound cake, which wasn’t anything to write home about.
Emanu does not have a liquor license, but they are happy for you to bring your own and they do not charge a corkage fee. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and dinner is from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The restaurant is open an extra hour on Friday and Saturday, and is closed Sunday and Monday.