Your day's organized by two simple forces: the El, which determines your traveling, and food, which is delicious and keeps you from dying. Align your wanderings with your chow, with Ari Bendersky's new column, Degus-EL-Station.
Degustation: a culinary term meaning "a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods."
El: that noisy rail jalopy that takes you to other hoods on the cheap.
NEXT STOP: Lawrence (Red Line)
WHERE TO EAT: Demera, 4801 N. Broadway, 773-334-8787
COST: $20 (not including drinks, tax or tip)
For anyone who has ever wanted to ditch the silverware and eat with their hands, it's time to rejoice and head to Demera Ethiopian Restaurant. The Uptown spot at the bustling corner of Lawrence and Broadway is a perfect pre-concert option when seeing a show at the Aragon or Riviera.
Demera, which opened with much anticipation in early 2008, boasts both vegetarian and carnivorous options and dishes can be served either spicy or mild, depending on your taste. The menu can be a bit daunting, but fortunately, you can make life easier by going with samplers.
Start with a sambussa sampler to get a taste for everything. Sambussas are fried, flaky pastries stuffed with any number of ingredients; think of Indian samosas or even empanadas. The sampler plate at Demera lets you dive into ground beef, spiced chicken, various vegetables, creamy spinach and tuna and is perfect for two to share. They are served with awaze, a spicy sauce made from red peppers mixed with honey to give it a tangy, sweet flavor. Also, don't pass up the azifah salad. This flavorful mashed lentil dish is mixed with onions and jalapeños that add a bit of fire in your mouth. But eaten up with injera (spongy pancake-like bread that you use to sop up most food), it was one of the best things we ate.
Entrees are wide and varied and there are some amazing dishes that typify Ethiopian cuisine, like gomen (collared greens with garlic, ginger and onion), ye misir-wot (spicy red lentils), doro wot (two chicken drumsticks bathed in spicy berbere sauce topped with a hardboiled egg) and kitfo (a steak tartare-like dish that can be eaten raw or cooked to your specification).
Get the messob sampler and either order particular dishes or ask the server to choose for you. My only suggestion is to steer away from the lamb. Because it's boiled, it tends to be tough and was really the only thing I didn't enjoy. I couldn't get enough of the lentils or spinach dishes, and while my friend preferred the kitfo cooked medium, it would've been interesting to have it prepared more traditionally. Either way, it still had a lot of spice and flavor.
Demera does have a full bar, but lets you bring your own wine for an $8 corkage fee, which helps if you're on a limited budget. We brought a bottle of jammy and spicy Zinfandel, following the recommendation of my friend, Alpana Singh, who said to bring a Zin, Malbec or another red with some nice fruit and depth to it. These wines complement the exotic seasonings and spices in the food—even if some may add a little heat.
The decor, while simple and respectful of Ethiopian heritage and culture, is a bit dull, but when you start eating, it won't make a bit of difference. There's enough character and color in the food and you'll realize that's all you'll really need to see.
Ari Bendersky is a food, wine and lifestyle journalist and the creator of SomethingGlorious.com. He also contributes articles locally to Huffington Post, Time Out Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Concierge Preferred, Tasting Table and more. Follow him on Twitter.