by Sarah Steimer
A couple of weeks ago, a couple of my friends and I were in the mood for a little BYOB dining. After staring at Urbanspoon for a while, someone suggested going to Abay (pronounced uh-BYE), an Ethiopian restaurant. I’d never had that sort of fare before, so off we went to East Liberty — which, for the record, is really making a comeback. Sure, you could probably still buy crack in certain parts, but it has a Whole Foods!
Abay has been topping a lot of restaurant lists in Pittsburgh, and it’s not so expensive that you have to wait for a birthday or bar mitzvah to go. It’s a fairly small restaurant and they don’t take reservations unless you have a party of eight or more, so the waiting line on a weekend night can get long.
We were seated at one of the super-cool woven basket tables with a Lazy Susan on top to encourage sharing. You can get individual meals at Abay, but it’s a lot more fun to try a little bit of this and that. We got the three-person vegetarian sampler ($32.50 — so only about $10 per person) and chose the following (starting clockwise from the top in the first picture of this post):
Ye Abesha Gomen: Kale, peppers, ginger, garlic and onions slow-cooked in a mild sauce.
Shiro Wat: Finely ground split peas, lentils and chickpeas simmered in berbere and a combination of seasonings.
Ayib be Gomen: Fresh collard greens blended with Abay’s homemade cheese.
Fosolia: String beans lightly spiced and sauteed with carrots, onions and potatoes.
Everything was served on injera, which is a spongy flatbread made from tef, wheat and barley. The way to eat this is to rip off a piece of the injera and scoop up what you’d like. The menu explains the importance of communal spirit in Ethiopia and how it’s reflected in the way they eat: no individual plates or utensils.
Our platter was absolutely delicious. It doesn’t look like a ton of food but I was comfortably full when we finished. The Shiro Wat was spicy and it tasted great when combined with Ye Abesha Gomen. I was very surprised by the Fosolia because it tasted a bit like something you would have at Thanksgiving time. But all the tastes meshed beautifully and I chocked up that trip to one of my best restaurant experiences in Pittsburgh.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, my friend Dave got us this incredible dessert. I wish I caught the name of it (the desserts are chosen on a daily basis and not on the menu), but it was something like warm pumpkin pie filling wrapped in crispy phyllo dough and served with vanilla bean ice cream with syrup drizzled over top. Unbelievable.
Everything about the food, the way we ate and the conversations we had definitely gave me the feeling of community the restaurant shoots for.
Visit Abay in East Liberty: 130 S. Highland Ave. Pittsburgh, Pa. 15206; http://www.abayrestaurant.com/index.shtml
Photos: Sarah Steimer