Abay

For too many years i’ve been forced to take road trips to Washington, DC, Toronto, or Cleveland when I had the desire for Ethiopian food. A new restaurant, Abay, has opened up in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh (on Highland Avenue). To say I’m pleased would be an understatement. The space is warmly lit, unassuming, and uncluttered; it seats about 50 to 60 comfortably. The menu is still under development, but has a decent variety of vegetarian, beef, and chicken options (I did not see any lamb on the menu, which makes me a bit sad). The injera, a sponge like bread that is both figuratively and literally the centerpiece of the meal, was fantastic. Sour, springy, and leaving just a dusting of unidentifiable chaff on the fingertips, I could eat it for weeks and not get tired of it. EntrÈes are spread in mounds on the flatbread, and are shared by all at the table. Some of the people I dined with felt the dishes weren’t adequately spicy, but I found them to my taste; rather than being spiced for pain, they were spiced for depth.

I generally enjoyed the vegatarian offerings more than the meat dishes. In particular, I found the ye’ abesha gomen, a savory mixture of kale, chillis, garlic, and onion to be particularly good, the metallic tang of the kale melding with the hint of sweetness from the onion. The tikil gomen – cabbage and carrots – is the very definition of homestyle food, and is as good as any I’ve had in other cities.

The one weakness of the menu is the drinks; you can get Ethiopian coffee or tea, spiced with cardamom, but there’s no hint of the relaxing and enjoyable Ethiopian coffee ceremony here – you’ll still need to go elsewhere for your black clay coffee pot and incense fix. There’s also no sign of Tej, the amazingly vile Ethiopian honey wine, so perhaps it’s a fair trade. Prices are very reasonable – averaging $8 / entrÈe at lunch, and $11 at dinner – and decrease if you order dishes in sets, as you undoubtedly will.

Abay is a great addition to the growing stable of interesting and unique cuisine you can find in Pittsburgh. On behalf of…well, I guess just on behalf of myself, let me say to those running the new restaurant: Welcome!

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