Lucy Ethiopian Cuisine offers great food and coffee close to campus

Two weeks ago, my little sister came to visit for her birthday. She lives with the rest of my family in a small town with few dining options. Since she doesn’t often get to enjoy foreign cuisine, she requested Thai for dinner. She’d had it once before and enjoyed it. I told her that I knew a good Thai place but mentioned that there were plenty of other kinds of food she could try if she was feeling adventurous. She was happy to have the opportunity to try something new, and I’d been meaning to visit Lucy Ethiopian for some time after hearing great things from friends.

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see what all the fuss was about.

Lucy is unlike any restaurant I’ve been to in this city. Located on the corner of Grant and Amherst, Lucy Ethiopian is certainly not a lavish establishment. The small building isn’t particularly attractive on the outside, and I might have never paid it a visit had I not heard about it through word-of-mouth.

When I walked inside, the first thing that struck me was how small the dining area is. While this might be problematic in other restaurants, I immediately felt cozy rather than crowded or claustrophobic. There were several small tables and a few traditional Ethiopian ones — low, round wicker tables with wicker seats. I wasn’t sure what to make of the Ethiopian tables, as the tops of them were inwardly rounded rather than flat, so we chose a regular table.

One of the owners, Naima, welcomed us to the restaurant and brought us our menus. Right off the bat, I ordered coffee and my sister ordered tea. I explained to Naima that it was our first time trying Ethiopian food and that we would need a little guidance. She did a fantastic job of explaining what the different dishes were and suggested we order the Lucy Combination so that we could sample a little of everything. We started with sambusas, a beef-filled pastry, and went with the Lucy Combination and stewed chicken for our entrees.

What struck me right off the bat was the friendliness of the staff. Naima and her husband, Abba, were engaging and casual, as if we were old friends stopping in. It may not seem like much, but it made all the difference to us. The warmth and hospitality during our visit was genuine. There was no hint of salesmanship or obligation.

After a few minutes, my sister received her tea. It was brought out in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, which wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing and didn’t make much sense as it wasn’t ordered to-go. It wasn’t served with the option of milk or sugar, but it didn’t matter. The tea was delicious exactly as it was.

Our sambusas arrived 10 minutes later and were served with a spicy dipping sauce. I’ve never had anything like it. The beef inside of the pastry shell was seasoned amazingly and they were gone in seconds. This appetizer was good enough in itself to warrant a return visit.

After another half-hour, our entrees arrived. Everything was served on a big, round tray to share. Suddenly, the circular Ethiopian tables made perfect sense.

Ethiopian food is traditionally eaten with your hands rather than utensils. Every dish is served with injera, a roll of spongy flatbread that can be torn off and used to pick up foods that aren’t typical finger-foods. I’m not a big fan of “proper” table manners — seriously. Eating the meal with our hands was fun and added to the overall experience of being served Ethiopian food in a traditional manner.

The food was delicious. Choosing the Lucy Combination was a good decision, as I enjoyed just about everything on the platter. The prices were very reasonable.

About halfway through our meal, Naima brought out a hot pan on which she was roasting fresh coffee beans. She explained that it was an Ethiopian tradition to show the customers who order coffee the roasting process. She drizzled a little water into the pan and walked around the room so that the delectable aroma of the freshly-roasted coffee beans filled the air.

Shortly after, my coffee was ready. It was served dark, strong and in a small cup, similar to the kind espresso is served in. This made me a little wary, as I’m not a fan of espresso and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was the best coffee I’ve ever had. Naima offered to bring me sugar and milk, but I declined. It was incredible. I enjoy visiting the coffee shops near campus — SPoT Coffee, Starbucks, and Cafe Aroma are terrific — but Lucy Ethiopian blows these places out of the water, and coffee isn’t even its main product.

It’s hard to believe that this restaurant has been around for more than a year and a half and it took me this long to try it. I’m not above eating the atrocious food served here on campus, but I am above overpaying for it. The quality, affordability and proximity of Lucy Ethiopian will make this my new go-to place whenever I find myself hungry between classes or just in need of a cup of coffee.

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