Empanada Boy and I are always on the lookout for new restaurants opening in and around our neighborhood. A few weeks ago, as we were driving past the Lawrence Red Line stop, we noticed that a previously abandoned restaurant space was about to reopen as an Ethiopian restaurant. Neither of us had very positive memories about our earlier experiences with Ethiopian food. We both remembered it being too bland, and we recalled stomach-churning moments resulting frominjera, the traditional, spongy, fermented bread, used instead of utensils. But in the spirit of supporting local business efforts, we decided to give this new place a try. That’s what brought us to Demera Ethiopian late last Tuesday evening.
From the moment we walked in and saw tables filled with Ethiopian people and smelled the scent of ginger, garlic and caramelizing onions, I knew this restaurant would be different. The walls are hung with traditional Ethiopian artwork, and the windows are draped with soft curtains, giving the room a mellow glow. We sat at one of the traditional wicker tables, designed to fit the platter on which the food is served. Our hostess lifted the cover, and we sat down to ponder the menu. We were starving, and everything we read sounded good. This left us only one option: the combination plates, which allowed each of us to order two meat dishes and two vegetarian dishes. These were delivered to our table atop a large round of injera, lining the single metal platter. The dishes are too numerous to describe each in detail, but I will point out the highlights. I loved the spicy doro wot, a chicken drumstick marinated in lemon and Berbere sauce (a flavorful African spice mix) with onions, garlic, ginger, a hard-boiled egg and a homemade cottage cheese. Being a huge jerky fan, Empanada Boy went crazy for the ye-kwanta firfir, made with a special Ethiopian-style dried beef, the Berbere sauce and torn pieces of sauce-soaked injera. On the whole, our favorite dishes contained meat, but I also enjoyed the collared greens and a sauté of cabbage and carrots, seasoned with onions, garlic, ginger and green pepper.
Demera doesn’t have alcohol on the menu, but it’s not clear whether BYOB is allowed. I decided to opt for what the Ethiopian patrons were drinking: an aromatic, cardamom and cinnamon-infused tea. The meal was far more flavorful and used better, fresher ingredients than either of us had remembered from our previous experiences. We still didn’t love the sour flavor of the injera, but we are both willing to go back and try more of the dishes on Demera’s lengthy menu. One thing is for sure, though: we will never have room to sample Demera’s desserts.
4801 N. Broadway St.
Chicago, IL 60640