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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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In Dining

The traditional Moseb basket-table. (PHOTO: Erin Calfa of Front Room)

In Dining

Yigletu Debebe runs Ethiopian Cottage with his family. (PHOTO: Erin Calfa of Front Room)

In Dining

The East Side restaurant has a bright, lively feel. (PHOTO: Erin Calfa of Front Room)

Ethiopian Cottage provides warm, intimate dining


It was 8:15 on a Thursday evening and we were sitting at a large woven basket, eating food off a metal pan with our fingers and joking and laughing with our server, Joi. Around us were colorful curtains, lively music and other people eating, laughing and drinking Ethiopian honey wine (Tej) and Ethiopian beer (Bedele) while the owner, Yigletu Debebe, mingled and pleasantly told us of the restaurant's Feb. 14 opening and his former life as a school administrator at Martin Luther King High School.

Milwaukee, please welcome the Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant, 1824 N. Farwell Ave., a wonderful new addition to our dining scene.

Ethiopian food is traditionally served on Injera, a flatbread comprised of Teff, a tiny cereal grain which has been the staple food of Ethiopia since sometime around 4000 B.C. To the American diner, Injera will be reminiscent of an unleavened, bubbly buckwheat/sourdough pancake. The Injera acts as your plate, fork, knife and spoon, and dishes are served collectively on one or two large pieces of the Injera as well.

So diners here will be best served to bring a dining companion they really like, as you quite literally eat with your fingers pinched around the Injera, and, in Ethiopian cultures, it is shown as a sign of respect and welcoming to actually feed your guest by scooping some of your entrée items with the Injera and putting it to his or her mouth. As a result, eating at the Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant is an intimate experience, and one that we found to be enjoyable, both from a cultural education perspective and quite simply from just eating really great food with interesting textures and flavors.

The menu here smartly begins by defining all the terms on the menu and also giving basic instructions for use of your Injera (forks, knives, and spoons can be provided upon request).

Dishes here are based in three forms, Fitfit salads, which combine vegetables with seasoned Injera, Wat, which is a spiced stew, and Tibs which is a sautéed blend of lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetables with onions and spices. Our favorite items were the Key Wat and Alicha Wat with Beef ($12.99), which were the spicy and mild stew forms of beef, and the Doro Wat (spicy chicken in a berbere sauce-red peppers, garlic, and other Ethiopian spices, served with a hard-boiled egg) Ybeg Alicha, mild cubed bone-in lamb that was tenderly cooked in a mild sauce, and Atkilt Wat, a combination of stewed carrots, potatoes, vegetables, and onions ($16 for one person, or $30 for two).

We were not as happy with the Ybeg Tibs ($10.99), which was sautéed but not to the point of delightful tenderness that the Wat items carried. Each of these items may be ordered stand alone or in one of the cottages combination plates for one or two, and come with lentils and chickpeas.

We early on also developed a love for the Ethiopian tomato salad ($5.50), a mixture of diced jalapenos, chunks of tomatoes, and onions and Ethiopian spices which were even more delightful when combined with any of the meat or vegetable items on our Injera. And that is one of the beauties of this style of cuisine, because you cannot only sample your dishes as well as those of your companions, the plating and eating techniques nearly beg one to intermingle the different components of the foods, allowing you an unlimited combination of textures and flavors.

While some may be intimidated by the intimacy of sharing everything with your fingers, the Ethiopian Cottage takes great strides to assuage any fear, offering an authentic dining experience that can be customized as the diners see fit.

There is no need to eat out of the Moseb basket-table if you don't feel comfortable, as they offer normal tables and chairs for the less adventurous, as well as knives, forks and individual plates, but if you give it the chance, Ethiopian Cottage invites you to come in and give a whole new intimacy and warmth to your dining experience.


Talkbacks

RJ | Oct. 21, 2007 at 1:34 a.m. (report)

The food at the EC is very good, but the service is quite spotty. Actually, it's not even really the service that's the problem, as the lone waitress (who also served as hostess, busboy, waterbearer, etc.) did everything she could to handle the crowd. The problem is with the management of the place. One of the owners worked the cash register, but ought to have stepped in to help with the customers. To make things worse, the owner didn't really know how to do certain things. My food plus tax came to $16.07; I handed her $20.07 and had to instruct her to give me four dollars in change! I'm glad an Ethiopian place is in Mke now, but I won't be surprised if poor management takes its toll.

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jinger33 | May 29, 2007 at 12:42 p.m. (report)

My husband and I ate here Moseb style Saturday night and loved it. The spicy red lentil dish was our favorite and a post-dinner visit by the owner was a nice touch. Affordable, filling and fun.

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Observer | May 5, 2007 at 6:53 a.m. (report)

While I really enjoyed my food, I found it needed a spice boost (too many ethnic places tone down the authentic seasoning with the fear most people would find that too unfamilar). I was brought out two bowls of different mixtures that made a good meal, a great one. Really good experience.

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VeggieLuver | April 27, 2007 at 11:16 a.m. (report)

I would highly recommend this restaurant. I went with 3 other vegetarians and we really enjoyed the food. It was also interesting to eat with your hands. I would suggest going here with people who have similar food interests, as you share everything on the platter.

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DJ Lando Land-Jackpot | April 9, 2007 at 11:53 a.m. (report)

I love that place!! It's about time Milwaukee got an Ethiopian resturant. I would have to go to Madison or Chicago to eat Ethiopian. The food is great and Joi is such a great server, she will keep you entertained while you wait for your food. Milwaukee, please try something different. It's very healthy food that's good to you as well.

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