Ethiopian crash course: Lucy Takeout
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 28, 2012 @ 9:16am
The pace of life in Buffalo agrees with Abba Biyah and Naime Tesfu, co-owners of the city’s first Ethiopian restaurant, Lucy Takeout, 388 Amherst St. After testing the Washington, DC and Toronto markets first, their comfort with the Queen City makes sense.
“They’re pretty tense,” Biyah said of his experiences in Washington, DC and Toronto. “Buffalo has a bit more of a slower pace—not too slow, though—and I like it.”
Open since March 8, Lucy Takeout offers an abundance of traditional Ethiopian elements, even if the American eating style isn’t entirely compatible with East African customs.
“In Ethiopia, we eat together around one plate as a family, and it’s a real symbol of love. Maybe your brother or sister will get married and move away, but the memories of eating together last forever,” said an Ethiopian customer who preferred to remain anonymous.
After eating at Lucy Takeout twice in the past three days, it’s clear that elements of the communal style have weaved their way into Black Rock. Even though several of the entrees run between $9 and $12, they offer enough to satisfy a group of two or three hungry patrons.
As you can see from the “Darek Tibs” entree above—fresh lamb stir-fried and garnished with onion, tomatoes and flavored with a special Lucy sauce—the meaty part of the dish is laid atop a giant layer of soft, spongy bread called injera. The plates are massive, and you’ll have to work a bit of Jenga wizardry to fit four of them on a table, if you’re that hungry.
To eat the Ethiopian way, the customer tears off a piece of the injera and pinches it together to pick up some of the lamb and vegetables. The servers are quite helpful with the procedure if you’re struggling. If you’re feeling a little daring, then dip the bite-sized sandwich into the orange/red powder served alongside— the mimita—and it’ll add a flavorful punch to the otherwise mildly bland offering. Silverware isn’t placed on the tables before meals, and there’s something primal (and awesome) about eating everything with your fingers. Don’t fear—there are moist towelettes on the table.
Above is the “chicken stewed” ($9.99), described as “a traditional dish of stewed chicken simmered in barbere red pepper sauce or simmered in ginger sauce with garlic onions and served with feta cheese.” The chicken is a bit of a challenge to pinch with the injera, but the flavor combination of the potent feta and the red pepper sauce that coats the chicken results in one of the more zesty choices on the menu.
The Lucy Kitfo Sandwich at $5.99 represents a solid meal for one—probably avoid sharing this one. It’s a “sandwich prepared with beef tartar and seasoned with herbal butter, mimita, cardamom and served on French bread.” It can be ordered raw, medium and well-done—depends on your level of adventure, I suppose—and comes with a pop and truly underrated French fries, which are intentionally over-cooked so they melt in your mouth. Even without sauce, the sandwich has a good level of spice, but there’s trusty ketchup to use as a dip as well.
If you visit Lucy Takeout between 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, dubbed the restaurant’s “happy hour,” the owners serve free bunna—powerful Ethiopian coffee served in small cups—after a traditional coffee ceremony. Watch the video of the ceremony, which involves incense, candles and plenty of flair, taking place below.
Sambusa, fried pockets with fillings of lentils or beef, run for only $.75, but the popular beef version runs out pretty early in the afternoon as the restaurant hands out plenty of free samples.
Tsuj’s Take: Although I’m not the biggest fan of injera—I prefer a more crisp bread (think tortilla or pita) over something so soft, thin and spongy, the Lucy kitfo sandwich would be my go-to choice (even if it’s not quite on par in terms of authenticity with the injera dinners in the eyes of the Ethiopians.) Don’t underrate the strength the bunna—I’m a little feeble when it comes to tolerating coffee, though—as I’m convinced a regular size 12-oz. mug would keep you awake for months at a time.