Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Ethiopian Queen In South Tampa

To the ancient Greeks, Ethiopia referred to an empire that encompassed a vast territory, extending to Arabia, Syria, Armenia and the territory between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. This is the empire that the Queen of Sheba was said to have reigned over.

Today, the Queen of Sheba and her humongo chicken reign over a small spot on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa. The Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant sits at 3636 Henderson in a small strip mall.

After reading a couple of Urbanspoon reviews, I suggested to my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, that we head over to the Queen and give her a try, as I had seen a couple of items on their on-line menu that really titillated my taste buds.

We had reservations for six o'clock yesterday evening. When we entered the Queen we found ourselves standing alone. There were a few tables that were occupied, but there was no one to greet us or seat us.

St. George Beer bottleAfter standing around for awhile a server emerged from the kitchen, placed a few plates on a table and then guided us to our table. We were presented with menus and after another noticeably long wait, our drink orders were taken.

There seemed to be a slight communication problem going on that evening - maybe we mumble - but, while we requested two Ethiopian beers, we got but one. It was a good one though, a St. George. I pointed out to our server that we both were in need of an adult beverage. Eventually we got our other beer.

We decided to start our dining adventure by splitting an appetizer, the Beef Sambussa, a homemade thin flat bread hand-wrapped and stuffed with a blend of minced beef, fresh garlic, onions, peppers and ginger and parsley. 

Once again, we apparently mumbled because instead of one sambussa to split, we each got our own. That worked out, because these delicious empanada-like delights were about the right size for one person.

I would have been more than slightly taken aback seeing Ace bandages on our plates had I not read earlier that these were rolls of injera, a bread made out of fermented flour from a grain called teff. 

In lieu of forks and spoons, a small piece of injera is torn off and used to pick up your food morsels - with your right hand. In a number of countries, you eat with your right, and wipe with your left. Don't make me get more descriptive.

Diners who are too whoosified to eat with their fingers will be provided with other utensils upon request. Also be aware that Ethiopian food tends to be a tad spicy, so if you can't stand the heat, tell your server to tone it down a notch or two.

Oh yeah, those sambussas were excellent!

I had hoped to try two items I had seen on-line, but alas, the Queen no longer serves the Beef Dullet, with finely chopped tripe, liver and red meat seasoned with onion, garlic and pepper spice. Having never tried tripe, I was interested in giving it a go. Oh well, instead I chose the Queen's Kitfo Special, finely chopped tartar with fresh chopped jalapeno, onion, garlic and Ethiopian spices.

The kitfo was spicy and oh, so good!

My bride decided on the Vegetarian Combination Platter with six different veggies:
  • Ye Misr Wot - Red split lentils simmered in finely chopped onion, garlic, ginger and seasoned with berbere.
  • Ye Kik Alecha - Yellow split peas simmered in finely chopped onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric powder.
  • Tikikl Gomen - Chopped cabbage, carrots and other vegetables in a mild sauce.
  • Ye Shimbera Asa Wot - Fried chickpea patties dipped in a special Ethiopian sauce.
  • Mushroom Wot - Sautéed mushrooms in a Berbere stew.
  • Gomen - Steamed collard greens simmered with minced onions and garlic.
We could easily recommend all but the chickpea patties. They were very dry and had the consistency of finely ground sawdust. Everything else was delicious.

All of the veggies were served on a large platter over rounds of injera. My bowl of kitfo can be seen in the lower right - around the five o'clock position. I think the extra veggies were sides to my kitfo.

Dining at the Queen of Sheba was a very pleasant and unique experience, maybe not one you would do every day. The food is very tasty, and filling. The service may seem a little slow if you are just too important to sit back and enjoy another culture.

You may wonder how you will ever get full eating a bunch of vegetables, but I can assure you for our $85.69 bill (includes 20% gratuity) we waddled out of there groaning under the weight of our stuffed bellies.

Queen of Sheba on Urbanspoon 

Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant on Foodio54

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