If unable to physically travel to a particular foreign destination, many will instead venture to museums, read descriptive articles or books or watch well-produced, visually appealing documentaries to capture that country's essence. Oh, poppycock. You have to taste
a place to experience it. With that in mind, head to Demera to truly get a feel for Ethiopia.
The gritty urban streets of Uptown vanish as you enter the vast room bedecked in African wares and decor, from walls dressed with faux bamboo in shades of caramel to the various pots, photos and paintings. You'll immediately feel as though you've been whisked off to another continent, even if Chicago still lurks on the other side of the creme linen shades edged in red and yellow folk designs hanging on every window.
The couple that owns the place, Girmai Lemma and Tigist Reda, set out to recreate the dishes and sentiment of their beloved native country. "We've always loved entertaining and this is a beautiful part of Chicago," Reda says. The menu not only describes the kitchen's offerings, but provides an informative cultural lesson. As diners will learn, Ethiopian cuisine is not eaten with utensils. Instead, the heavy stews, meat and veggie dishes must be soaked up with injera, a sourdough flatbread. The demera messob presents one of the best dining options, allowing you to sample four different dishes (order four veggie, four meat or two meat and two veggie dishes) for about $15. As mouths are stuffed with flavor-sopped injera, the smells of spices proudly parade through the air, as many dishes come with berber, a traditional sauce infused with chili powder, ginger and cumin.
Lemma and Reda's hope to share and celebrate Ethiopia with a delicious feast provided inspiration for the restaurant's name. Demera, a large wooden bundle lit during the Ethiopian holiday Meskal, represents a meaningful part of the festival.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Paige Gray