It’s been cold. I’ve been feeling a little puny. I’ve been searching for comfort. And sometimes you find comfort in unexpected places. Like under the intersection of two freeways.
Yidnekachew Fantu and wife and head chef Selam Abebe opened Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant at I-35 and US 290 in 2013. I turned to their restaurant for my required culinary comfort.
I’m not a big stew or soup guy, but I dig into the Habesha vegetarian platter ($14.95) almost like a deconstructed stew. An assortment of about a half dozen vegetable dishes ring the oversized round of injera bread, the spongy Ethiopian sourdough pancake with a slightly fermented twang. You tear from the smaller injera rolls provided and make folds with which to scoop the bounty.
The ubiquitous Ethiopian spice mix called berbere (chili pepper, cardamom, salt, dried garlic, ginger) buzzes a mash of sinus-piercing spicy lentils colored with bits of jalapeño, and leaves its hue on a pile of tender potatoes. Berbere is my go-to spice for anything from chicken to popcorn seasoning. You can buy it in bulk at Central Market.
Garlic hums across the toasty notes of roasted chickpeas and returns with ginger to take some of the stiffness out of collard greens and cabbage. The assortment also comes with a green salad, sautéed beets and blend of citrus-splashed green lentils called azifa.
While the vegetarian sampler is enough for a meal, I wanted some more protein, so I followed this deconstructed stew idea to a dish of awaze tibs, tender and lean cubes of lamb tossed with onion, bell pepper and tomatoes sautéed with berbere and niter kibbeh, the Ethiopian staple of clarified butter usually made with garlic, onion, turmeric, cardamon and more. Rich, spicy, complex comfort. Just what the doctor ordered.
Information: 6019 N. I-35 North. 512-358-6839, habeshaaustin.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Best Thing I Ate This Week archives:
Meatloaf sandwich at Holy Roller
Beef tartare tostada with ant aioli at La Condesa
Wild game Italian sub sandwich at Dai Due
Vegetarian barbecue jackfruit sandwich at Kinda Tropical
Crab and butternut squash at Vixen’s Wedding
Fried chicken sandwiches at Pollo Las Abuelas