It's a great time to be an Ethiopian food fan in Cleveland. That's because in just one year, we've enjoyed a 200-percent gain in the number of Ethiopian restaurants. Granted, that increase only nudged the number from one to three, but still.
The newest might be the oddest of the bunch, at least in terms of setting. Imagine an event space crossed with a saloon and then toss in foods from the Horn of Africa and you pretty much end up with Lucy. This Old Brooklyn restaurant set up shop inside the divey Casablanca bar — and all that separates the two is a half wall. The restaurant side of the business is in an austere, near-windowless room that could double as a church basement. Depending on the day and time, your server might be doing double duty as the bartender, shuttling back and forth as needed.
All of the above doesn't seem to hinder the dining experience, which is casual and unrushed. Rare is the Ethiopian eatery that delivers food fast, and Lucy is no exception to the rule. The pace is slow, the competing music from the two venues a bit maddening, and the overabundance of televisions airing cable news a touch disconcerting, but if you can block all that out and focus on the food, all the better.
As fans of the genre, we were more than pleased with the quality of the food. Our beef ($16) and vegetarian ($14) combination platters were overflowing with colorful, flavorful stews and vegetables, all arranged atop a wide base of injera (with more on the side). That injera, a soft, spongy and tart flatbread, is used to pinch off portions of fiery berbere-infused beef stew, exotically spiced lentil stews, earthy braised greens and turmeric-hued potato and cabbage salad. Freshly made cottage cheese is bright with lemon and contrasts beautifully with the spicy stews.
If you already have a favorite Ethiopian dish, you can skip the combo platters and dive right into a single item. There are approximately two dozen beef, chicken, lamb and vegetarian options from which to choose. There is but one appetizer (not counting the chicken wings), flaky lentil-stuffed puff pastries called sambusas ($3) that are hot, crisp and delicious.
Owner Desalegn Sisay says he chose the name Lucy in honor of the archeological discovery made by Donald Johanson in 1975 while he was curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.