- 2804 Taylorsville Road, Louisville, KY, 40205
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- Monday - Sunday: 11:30 a.m.– 2:30 p.m. Monday: Closed for dinner; Tuesday – Thursday 5 to 10 p.m. Friday – Saturday 5 – 10:30 p.m.; Sunday 5 – 9 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
In a city like Louisville, a place that boasts a dizzying array of fascinating restaurants, old and new, it’s easy to develop a severe case of culinary attention deficit disorder. Many of us have it. We flit aimlessly from bistro to pizzeria to gastropub, from burrito to cold sesame noodles to gourmet burger. One night we’re eating classic Southern lima beans at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe; the next we’re feasting on Yucatan-style tok-sel limas at Mayan Cafe.
It’s fun, in its way and a source of constant satisfaction and delight. But there’s also something to be said for establishing a routine — for settling in at the same time, say, every Thursday night — at a place where the food is cheap, fun and comforting, the service is warm and friendly, and the atmosphere is calm and rejuvenating.
When I think of places like that, one of the first that comes to mind is — yes, I know it might come as a surprise, but stay with me for a minute — Queen of Sheba.
I concede that the foods and foodways of sub-Saharan Africa sound exotic to us. The dishes have names like “zilzil tips” and “doro wot.” Communal service is the norm — everyone’s food arrives at the table arrayed on a gigantic platter, and rests on an enormous circle of the spongy bread called injera. And instead of using the forks, knives and spoons we mastered as children, we eat the zilzil tips (sauteed cubes of prime beef, $10.95) and doro wot (spicy stewed chicken, $9.50) with our hands — using the injera bread as both food and utensil. And to keep things simple, just remember that “tips” are always sauteed dishes and “wots” are always stewed.
The first time you eat this way it’s as nerve-wracking as the first time you tried to pick up a noodle or a piece of sushi with chopsticks (or, for that matter, the first time you picked up a bowling ball or tried to parallel park). But once you get the hang of it, it’s a blast.
And the folks at Queen of Sheba have been teaching first-timers how to eat Ethiopian-style for 10 years. Selamawit Deneke, who owns the place with her husband, Ferid Abdulla, opened her first Louisville restaurant, Abyssinia, in 2002, and opened Queen of Sheba in 2004, and moved it to its present location (which once housed Mazzoni’s) in 2008.
Over that decade, the food has gotten better and better (or maybe it’s just that I’ve grown in my understanding and appreciation of it). The space is comfortable, and dimly lit by night. The soundtrack leans toward the soft pulse of Afro-pop (never so loud that you can’t converse, and often quiet enough that you may overhear the conversations at nearby tables). Service feels generous, friendly and accommodating.
And the food is a perfect blend of the exotic and the familiar. If I served you a bowl of atakilt or a platter of gomen wot, you might think I’d gotten the recipes from my Kentucky-raised mother-in-law — and you might ask me for some cornbread. Atakilt is comfort food of the finest sort — stewed cabbage, onions and carrots in a mellow tomato sauce ($8); gomen wot is a slow-cooked jumble of collard greens, onions and potatoes in a mild, garlic-inflected sauce ($8).
If you ever want to taste two glorious — but radically different — treatments of the simple lentil, sample some misir wot and kik wot, the former a mellow mix of onions, garlic, turmeric and herbs that has a light, refreshing aroma; the latter a red symphony of onions, garlic and berbere sauce (a hot Ethiopian blend of red chilis, $7), that might have you grabbing for a glass of Sheba tej, a creamy Ethiopian mead, or a glass of beer.
Deneke’s vegetarian dishes are superb. For those who aren’t adept with injera, a number of appetizers arrive at the table already formed into perfect little cylinders: spinach sauteed with onions and garlic, and flavored with dabs of soft house-made cottage cheese is a delight ($4); another wrap made with green beans and carrots ($4) is lovely, as well; and a sampler platter ($7) brings those, plus a refreshing salad based on injera, tomatoes, green peppers and a lively lemon dressing.
But Deneke’s meat dishes are darned good as well. Her sambussa appetizers — a fried pastry stuffed with chicken (or beef, or lentils) are a triumph of texture and flavor ($4).
And those sauteed dishes — cubes of lamb ($11.95), chicken ($10.95) or tilapia ($11.95), variously flavored with ingredients like seasoned butter, caramelized onions and jalapenos, or — at your discretion — little piles of brick red powder or scoops of dangerously hot spicy pastes — will satisfy the most adventurous palate — as will a plate of kitfo (a generous scoop of ground beef, house-made cottage cheese, seasoned butter and hot spice, $10.95) that looks and tastes like a novel take on the Sloppy Joe (albeit, dryer and less sloppy).