June 21, 2013 by LJK
The kiddo was learning about Africa in her day camp all week, so on a hot evening when I didn’t feel like cooking at all, we stopped into African Restaurant, a small storefront on 27th Street just north of Q Street that I’ve been meaning to try since we moved to Lincoln last summer. My heart sank a little as it dawned on me that the restaurant was probably fifteen degrees hotter than my kitchen at home, but otherwise the dining room was comfortable and cheery. The hanging lights with smoked-glass panes brought me straight back to my childhood home: same lamps.
The place has been open for a couple years, and I get the impression from pictures and reviews online that it used to be a bit more ambitious than it is these days. The mostly Ethiopian menu is very . . . minimal, shall we say. You can get one of four meat dishes or one vegetable dish with either injera or rice. There’s a “gyro” with either chicken or beef, and there are a couple of appetizers listed on the board behind the register—sambusas, fried plantains. I’d been anticipating more of a standard Ethiopian-restaurant experience, in which you can choose several different dishes, vegetable- and meat-based, which come in small piles on an injera-lined plate with a basket of extra injera for gathering up the food with your fingers, so I was not quite sure what to order. As it turned out, it seems all the dishes come with a couple of vegetable sides.
I picked the least-spicy-sounding item for my daughter, a chicken gyro. It wasn’t a gyro in the classic sense, but it was surprisingly tasty. In place of a pita was an oil-crisped thin flatbread almost like a flour tortilla. The chicken was breast meat chopped and tossed with a tiny bit of berbere. It was all topped with slices of tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and what the menu referred to as “ranch” (can you believe it?).
I had injera with kay wat, tender nubbins of lamb in a thick berbere-spiced sauce, and was happy that it came with braised cabbage and an identically seasoned stew of carrots, green beans, and potatoes. The kay wat was fine, with good-quality meat, but could definitely have used more heat and a more distinctive spice profile—the flavors were muddled and kind of one-note. The bright-yellow-tinted vegetables were comfortingly bland and soft, with little more than garlic, turmeric, salt, and pepper. The injera was unremarkable, and clearly made with commercial yeast (it was not very fermented or sour) and a very low proportion of teff to wheat flour. Ah, well.I’d say it was an okay meal for $17 total, including a Fanta and a bottle of water. But with such a small menu and not much other than decent, not-bad food to recommend it I think you’d have to be really craving one specific dish to want to visit the place very often. African Restaurant is at 313 N. 27th Street and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.