Addis Bar & Grill offers tastes of Ethiopia and more

Ethiopia is a historic East African country that most Americans probably don’t know much about, save perhaps for sad images of hungry children suffering from famines in that troubled region.

But Ethiopia is worth getting to know. The only country in Africa that largely escaped colonialism, it boasts a proud heritage as a monarchy with roots extending back more than 2,500 years. It has been a Christian center since missionaries from Carthage planted a church in the third century. Haile Selassie, its emperor from 1930 until 1974, is known not only for his long, stable reign, but for having been declared the second coming by the Rastafari, for whom ganja, perhaps not coincidentally, is a sacrament.

Fortunately, no ganja is required for the enjoyment of Ethiopian food; and we have a new place to enjoy it with the recent arrival downtown of Addis Bar & Grill, named after Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Addis, formerly Lunchbox, has had a name transplant to highlight the Ethiopian aspect of its eclectic cuisine. It appears to be a popular spot for downtown workers on a quick lunch break, doing a very heavy takeout and eat-in business on a recent weekday, and even the bar seemed to be selling a lot of Bud and Bud Light to workers whose job situation permits such midday indulgence.

The venue is attractive, bright and clean, tomato-sauce red with accents of cream, heavy blonde wood tables and comfortable chairs, paper napkins and plastic service ware.

I can’t briefly describe the scene any more effectively than the folks at Addis do themselves, in lovably accented Ethiopian English on their Website: “Addis grill is the vegetarian paradise, and our appetizer such as our hummus, Kabobs, freshly grilled Fajita or Burritos, curries and Ethiopian vegetarian are the most admired dishes, that why we become the second busy lunch place in few months.

Sounds good to me! We met our pal Jerry, who works nearby, and settled in for a hearty, affordable lunch.

As you may have discerned from the reference to burritos and fajitas, the bill of fare here extends well beyond Ethiopian. In fact, at first glance, Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus with pita ($3.25), stuffed grape leaves ($4.35), tabbouleh ($4.25) and a falafel wrap ($4.95) seem to dominate the lunch menu, not to mention those burritos and fajitas (mostly $5.35) and a chicken quesadilla ($7.95). Obligate gringos can satisfy themselves, too, with such simple fare as a burger ($5.95 with or without cheese), a fried fish sandwich on a hoagie bun ($5.95): a Philly cheesesteak ($6.25), and a steak sandwich ($6.50).

A list of more expansive Mediterranean and American main courses are $12.95 (For chicken kabob with rice, hummus, pitas and salad) to $23.95 (for the Addis Special for two, including a skewer of shish kabob, another of chicken kabob, two ground-meat kufta kabobs, rice and salad).

You’ve got to drill down to the bottom of the menu to find the serious Ethiopian fare, though, but it’s well worth the dig: Colorful and prepared well, these dishes are delicious and offer a filling meal for prices that are still more than fair.

Ethiopian vegetarian entrees are all $7.95, all come served on thin, spongy injera bread, and include Misir Wot (lentil stew), Kil Alicha (split peas), Gomen Wot (sauteed collards) and Atkilt (fresh veggie stew). A combo of all four is $10 at dinner time, $7.95 at lunch.

Prefer something more meatful? Ten carnivorous choices are $9.50 (for Doro Wot, spicy chicken-drumstick stew with fiery berbere sauce and a boiled egg, an Ethiopian tradition) to $13.99 (for Kitfo, hand-chopped lean beef, fired up with spices and customarily served “mitmita.” raw or lightly cooked. If the idea of Ethiopian steak tartare doesn’t appeal, they’ll cook it to your preference. Lamb dishes, Yebeg Wot and Yebet Alicha, are $12.95, or you can pick a three-way meat wot (stew) combo for $14 for one, $25 for two. Pescavores might go for Ye-Assa Tibs ($11.95), cubed marinated fish sauteed with onion, tomato, pepper and garlic.

Mary’s choice, Kufta Kabob ($7.25) brought her three football-shaped, tender beef meatballs – one more than the menu had promised – lightly flavored with onions and spice and served with a pool of creamy hummus, a ration of excellent basmati rice, pickles, tomato and a simple side salad topped with crunchies that appear to be squares of fried pita.

Jerry asked for chicken kabob but got chicken curry instead, a small language-barrier issue that didn’t bother him at all. The replacement dish was delicious: A generous bowl of tender, boneless chicken chunks swimming in a savory bath of thick brown onion sauce with the distinctive hot-and-spicy flavor of berbere.

I was delighted with my Ethiopian veggie combo, a bright assembly of red and green lentil stews, fine-chopped collards and onions and a yellow grain, neatly arranged on an oversize injera round and three more rolls of the spongy bread for eating with the fingers, Ethiopian-style. Don’t mind if I do!

A filling lunch for three, with two fresh iced teas and a diet cola, was a very reasonable $26.26, plus a $6 tip.

Addis Bar & Grill
109 S. Fourth St.
Rating: 85