In a hidden strip mall at the corner of Murfreesboro Road and Thompson lane there is a small Ethiopian restaurant proclaiming their food comes from the country with 13 months of sunshine.  At least that is what almost every one of the faded posters emphasizes on the walls of the Horn of Africa restaurant, located at 1041 Murfreesboro Pike.

I will be the first to admit that I did not have a clue as to what an average Ethiopian would eat on a daily basis. I was titillated by the idea that I could go into a restaurant without the slightest idea as to what might fill my belly when I came out.

The inside of the restaurant was decorated with aforementioned posters and one or two African paintings.  Some of the tables had large wicker basket type containers sitting next to them that I was never able to identify or figure out what they might be used for besides decoration.

There was no music being played inside. Instead, we were offered a remote control to a television that sat in the corner of the room. My O.L.D. date and I did not change the channel. We decided that N.P.T.’s Reading Rainbow, which was what was already on, was suitable background noise. (And by the way, either they are still showing episodes from the mid 80’s or host Lamar Burton has not aged at all. All I’m saying is that it was almost freaky.)

The tables were adorned with white table cloths with what appeared to be blue hand stitched tapestry designs, which I thought was a nice touch.

Being the only patrons of the business save for one rushed to-go order, service was expectantly attentive.  Cans of diet coke were served from a visible refrigerator at the back of the dining area. As we began reviewing the menu, our server hovered appropriately, mostly to see if we needed any explanation or assistance with the menu items.

We decided to start with one of the two offered appetizers on the menu. It was called Tmatim Fitfit. It was served in a bowl with spoons given as utensils. It consisted of the Ethiopian bread called Injera (which seemed to be served with every dish on the menu) crumbled up and mixed with chopped tomatoes, green peppers, onions, oil, vinegar, and several spices. It was sneakily spicy but also a little sweet. 

Maybe it was the spoons or the bowl filled with cereal colored food inside, but we both determined that we could eat this dish for breakfast.

We decided to get two entrees and share them so that we could taste double the offered dishes. We chose one beef and one poultry dish and were not disappointed.

The beefy dish was called Awaze Tibs and consisted of chucks of beef sautéed in butter. It was seasoned with rosemary and a hot Ethiopian sauce called Awaze. Hence the name, I suppose. Visually, the dish resembled Slow Cooker Pot Roast but was much more flavorful and thankfully there was no sign of those lifeless potatoes and carrots that are always obligated to be served with a roast.

Our server made sure that we were prepared for spiciness as we placed our order for the chicken. The dish was called Doro Wat. It was a marinated chicken leg that came in a bowl of chili like sauce.  It was actually not as spicy as I was expecting. I would say it was more heavily seasoned than spicy-hot.  The chicken dish was also served with a whole hard boiled egg sitting in the same red sauce.

With the chicken also came a side of African Cottage cheese, labeled on the menu as IAB. It was a little tricky because it looked like feta cheese but was in no way creamy and tasted like cottage cheese. I was not a big fan of this as I am not one for surprises in my mouth (insert obvious joke here) because I had a hard time getting over the visual not matching the taste and texture of the cheese. My dining companion seemed to like it though and sprinkled it over most of his portion of the Awaze Tibs.

Both the beef and chicken entrée were presented on a giant plate that was covered with a thin layer of Injera. Our server then dumped all three bowls out onto the bread and presented us with a separate plate of the African bread that was to be used in place of forks.

I do have to say that when the bread is served in large folded pieces, it does tend to resemble pieces of skin. It tastes wonderful, but anyone who is has issues with texture and food (like myself), just be prepared.

Weird texture issues behind me, we began tearing the bread and picking up pieces of the Ethiopian lunch meats. They were flavorful and delicious and offered were certainly not the reason for the sparse lunch crowd.  This could only be attributed to the obscurity of the location and maybe general tentativeness of Southerners diving in to African cuisine.

The restaurant’s entire menu offered nothing as out of the ordinary as I expected. Beef, poultry, and lamb dishes were offered with a selection and combination of spices that may be a little different from the average meat and three but nothing that would put hair on an average gay’s chest or anything.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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